Should the Nationals draft LSU OF Dylan Crews if he is available?

The 2023 MLB draft is fast approaching and exactly four weeks from today, so the time is ticking for the Washington Nationals to make a franchise-altering decision. Do they go with the standout LSU pitcher, Paul Skenes, who has been compared to Stephen Strasburg? Or do they go with the jaw-dropping outfielder Dylan Crews? That’s a loaded question because most likely the Pittsburgh Pirates will draft one of them with the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Nats draft pick is directly after Pittsburgh in the first round.

Last week, I wrote a feature on Skenes, which included detailed quotes from the LSU ace, his head coach, Jay Johnson, and LSU legend Ben McDonald. This is our second installment in our draft interviews with an in-depth look at the LSU outfielder. Talk Nats had the opportunity to interview Crews as the Nats’ potential number-one pick, and ask him specific questions about playing for the Nats. To talk to Crews’ head coach gave great perspective into the player that he is.

“… Great [college] players today are attracted to development and who can develop them to be Major League players. There won’t be a player that we recruit while I’m the coach here where their ultimate goal isn’t to play Major League Baseball some day.

“And so when you’re talking about two players (Skenes and Crews) that in all likelihood are going to be drafted first and second, I think that shows a lot of development. Dylan is a better player today than he was as a freshman. … In my opinion, you are looking at the best position player in college baseball, and the most prepared position player to have — and go have success in professional baseball in Dylan.”

— LSU head coach Johnson told me

Talk Nats will publish a piece later in the week looking at the pros and cons of both selections and give our suggestion on who the Nationals should take.

Hard Facts

Name: Dylan Crews

Position: Outfielder

School: LSU directly from high school

Age: 21

Size: 6’0, 205 lbs and some sites say 6’1, 210 lbs

Crews is a head-turning prospect and currently leads the SEC with a .420 batting average. He has recorded 15 homers, 13 doubles, and 59 RBIs this season. In addition, the 2023 SEC Player of the Year is second in the nation in on-base percentage (.567). He has reached base in all 58 games this season. So, there’s almost no question the outfielder is slated to be a top-two pick in the 2023 MLB draft. Pirates and Nationals fans are excited that Crews may join either team next month. Although he has posted remarkable numbers, like everyone else, his story started elsewhere. And, before we can learn about what makes Crews such a good fit for the Nationals, we must understand his journey to becoming a force on a national stage.

Crews arrived at Louisiana State University straight from high school, even though he was pegged at being a first round pick in 2020 — he withdrew his name from the draft days before which is unheard of given the potential money. Already having an impressive baseball resumé that included time with USA Baseball and a top high school record at Lake Mary High School in Flordia, he honored his commitment he made to LSU when he was a young teenager. Crews was the 13th-ranked high school player by Perfect Game in 2020, and was the highest-ranked player to attend college in 2020.

His arrival in Baton Rouge brought high expectations and a ton of pressure placed on Crews, but he has not disappointed thus far. Since arriving in 2021, Crews has showcased his offensive power, speed, and elite baseball IQ, becoming a driving force for the Tigers. He also played parts of two summers in a wood bat league with the Florida Collegiate Summer League as one of their youngest players at age 18.

Crews is the first player in SEC history to win a Player of the Year award in consecutive seasons. He is honored but tries not to dwell on the past. He is up for national collegiate honors and a finalist for tbe prestigious Golden Spikes award along with Skenes.

“It shows the hard work is paying off, and the [awards] are for the people that have helped me get to where I am today. Looking back, this is something I’ll always remember, and I’ll always be thankful for.”

— Crews said

His first season in purple and gold occurred in 2021 when he started 63 games while tallying 18 home runs, 16 doubles, 42 RBIs, and stealing 12 bases. He solidified his extraordinary talent as a freshman by breaking the freshman home run record with 18, previously held by Mike Fontenot. In his first collegiate season, Crews finished first in the SEC in total bases (163) and finished third in on-base percentage (.453). Crews’ impressive season earned him the National Freshman of the Year, voted on by Perfect Game. In 2021, he started 60 games in right field, with only three starts in center. That would change dramatically during his sophomore campaign. Along with earning National Freshman of the Year, Crews was voted the Louisiana Freshman of the Year and received a second-team all-SEC recognition. Crews would repeat his success in his sophomore campaign, starting all 62 regular season games in centerfield, smashing 11 doubles, four triples, 22 homers, and recording 72 RBIs and a .349 batting average.

The Nationals will have their pick between Crews and the RHP Skenes. Crews told us that he has never been to D.C. before, but he did tell us some people have reached out via social media wondering if he’s had a preference between the Pirates and Nats, but he was smart enough not to answer them. He chuckled at some of the questions and comments he sees on his social media. Look, the rumor is Scott Boras will be his agent, so Crews handles an interview well. He’s tried to block out the noise and remain focused on an NCAA championship. But that did not stop us from asking him what it would mean to be drafted by the Nats.

“I think it would be awesome [to be drafted by the Nationals]. I guess whatever happens, happens. I have no control over [which team drafts me]. I have control over my process each and every day, and being present every single day. If that were to happen — if that were to be where I end up in the future — that would be awesome. I think it’s a great organization.”

“… I think [Washington D.C.] would be a really cool place to be.”

— Crews continued in our questions about possibly playing for the Washington Nationals

Although Skenes has only been at LSU for a year, the two players have continued to learn from each other and become strong leaders in the clubhouse. But there have been friendly competitions between the two dating back to when Crews got a homer off of Skenes back in 2021 when LSU played Air Force. Skenes was the team’s starting catcher, and finished the game as the closer. When Crews faced him, he took him deep in the 9th inning to make it a one-run game — but Skenes held on for the save and a win for Air Force. Most recently, they faced each other in scrimmages in fall-ball as LSU teammates. The next time they face each other — seems likely to be as opposing players for the Nats and Pirates. Right now, both are focused on LSU and the college postseason.

When we talked to LSU head coach Jay Johnson last month, he had nothing but great things to say about the two players and was incredibly proud of them. It’s only happened once before that a college team had two players being drafted in the Top-2, and you have to give credit to their coaching staff for preparing them for this level. A year ago, Skenes was not a Top-10 draft prospect.

“The way [Paul Skenes] prepares himself, the way he goes about himself, he is a true leader on this team. And, you know, he’s getting the younger guys and the other guys on board. And they’re listening, and they’re watching how he prepares.”

— Crews said about his teammate

We had the opportunity to talk with Mikie Mahtook, a graduate of LSU and a four-year player. Mahtook played with the Tigers and Rays and was with the Phillies and White Sox organizations before becoming a free agent after the 2021 season. He firmly believes in Crews and even mentioned him as the best college baseball player.

“I think the Nationals are in a very good position because they will have the ability to draft a player, that in any other year, would be the number 1 overall pick. Wyatt Langford from Florida is an extremely talented player and will be a major leaguer for a long time, but I think if Dylan Crews is available, you cannot pass on him.”

“He has proven over the course of 3 years [at LSU] that he can play an elite centerfield while also continuing to improve his offensive number even with teams constantly pitching around him. I’m obviously a little biased, but I’ve had the privilege of getting to know and watch Dylan for the last 3 years and the talent exceptional, but the make up may be even better. He’s had every eyeball on him for 3 years looking to pick a part his game and all he’s done is validate and further solidify what everyone already knew. He’s the best player in college baseball.”

— Mahtook told us about Crews

Crews told us that he is very aware of pitchers that are pitching around him and is part of the approach and learning process to take his walks. We asked Mahtook about any comparisons he could give between Crews and any comparisons that have been made between Crews and Mike Trout.

“Comparisons are always hard. I’ve called Crews the college version of Mike Trout because of the way they both play the game. Obviously, Mike Trout is one of the best baseball players of all-time, so saying Dylan Crews is as good as Trout right now would be an overstatement, but the way Dylan approaches his at-bats, the consistency in which he’s dominated the highest level of college baseball, and the way he handles himself on and off the field remind me a lot of Mike Trout. Trout has done it for a very long time at the highest level and is a generational player. I think Dylan Crews has the ability to be as good as anyone in the big leagues.”

— Mahtook told us

The top of this draft is loaded with talent. Don’t expect the Pirates to tip their hand on the player they will draft at No. 1. That will keep the speculation going as to who gets drafted first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and so on.

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