Updated July 9, 2023 at 10:45 p.m. EDT|Published July 9, 2023 at 7:18 p.m. EDT
Landing arguably the best player in the class but not the one many expected, the Washington Nationals selected LSU outfielder Dylan Crews with the second pick of the MLB draft Sunday night in Seattle.
Crews claimed the Golden Spikes Award, given to the nation’s best amateur player, as he helped LSU to the College World Series title. He quickly came off the board after right-hander Paul Skenes, his LSU teammate, went to the Pittsburgh Pirates with the first selection. Skenes won this year’s Dick Howser Trophy, awarded to college baseball’s top player.
The previous time the Nationals picked at or near the top of the draft, they selected Bryce Harper with the No. 1 pick in 2010. The year before, they took Stephen Strasburg first overall. Point being: When you get a high pick and nail it, it pushes the entire franchise in the right direction. The Nationals will hope Crews can do something similar.
“I like to say pressure is a privilege,” Crews said. “It’s how you take it. … The transition seemed pretty easy as I got to LSU, and I feel like the transition is going to be pretty easy as I go and play for the Nationals.”
Crews, 21, spent three years at LSU after being a highly touted prospect out of a Florida high school. He hit at least 18 home runs in each of his three seasons. This year, he turned in a .426 batting average, a .567 on-base percentage and a .713 slugging percentage to go with 18 home runs, 71 walks and just 46 strikeouts in 71 games.
“He’s got power, hit, defense, run and throw,” said Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo, who called Crews an on-base machine. “Beyond that, he’s got the demeanor and characteristics of a winner and a champion. He was very alluring to every team out there, and we were fortunate enough to grab him.”
Crews — 6 feet, 205 pounds — has elite bat speed that allows him to drive the ball to all fields; he also is selective enough to take his walks and not expand the strike zone. He played center field the past two seasons and seems capable of remaining there by the time he reaches the majors, but he could end up in a corner outfield spot. He joins a farm system in which outfield depth is a strength: James Wood, 2022 first-round pick Elijah Green and Robert Hassell III are among the Nationals’ top five prospects per MLB Pipeline.
The belief over the past few months was that the LSU teammates were the top players in the draft class and the Pirates essentially would make the decision for the Nationals. So when Skenes went first, that left the Nationals with Crews. Rizzo said he was “tickled pink.” He added that he loved how Crews handled himself in high-pressure situations and said that factored into his decision-making. Crews said he and Skenes talked before the draft — but not about who would go first.
Skenes, 21, started his college career as a two-way player at Air Force for two seasons before transferring to LSU, where he pitched full time. During his only season in Baton Rouge, all he did was go 13-2 with a 1.69 ERA over 122⅔ innings as he broke the SEC’s single-season strikeout record with 209.
Skenes — 6-6 and 235 pounds — throws a fastball that averages 98 mph and features a plus slider and a change-up that complement his four-seamer. What made Skenes’s season at LSU so impressive was that he showed command of all of his pitches; he walked just 20 batters. He is considered perhaps the top pitching prospect in the draft since Strasburg in 2009, but Pittsburgh wouldn’t let him fall to Strasburg’s squad.
The Nationals added another college bat with the first pick of the second round. With the 40th selection, they grabbed Yohandy Morales, a third baseman from Miami. Morales hit 49 homers in three seasons with the Hurricanes. This year, he hit .408 with 20 home runs and a .475 on-base percentage. His strength is power, but he can be susceptible to swings and misses.
“One of the loudest bats I heard this year,” Kris Kline, the Nationals’ assistant general manager and vice president of scouting operations, said of Morales. “We were pretty happy with that one, getting him at 40.”
Washington’s draft bonus pool is $14,502,400, and the slot value for the second pick is $8,998,500. For the 40th selection, the slot value is $2.14 million.
A few hours before selecting Crews, the Nationals entered the all-star break with a 36-54 record following a 7-2 home win over the Texas Rangers. They’re still early in their rebuild, with each new addition providing optimism in the long term. In Crews, they have another significant piece of their future.
Crews said he admired Harper growing up, and on the field he hopes to impact the game the way the former Nationals star outfielder did. Off the field, he hopes to be a vocal leader who can push himself and his team to be their best.
“Obviously the atmosphere and everything’s going to change, so for me, I just got to play my game. Everything will kind of take care of itself,” Crews said. “I’ve grown tremendously. Starting off my first couple of years, I was kind of a guy that led by example. My third year, I led more vocally. … I think it really, truly impacted us, helped us win a national championship. So I’m really going to keep bringing what I’ve been bringing to the table, and hopefully we’ll bring a World Series to this organization.”