Mock drafts have Skenes to Pittsburgh, Crews to Washington

We are exactly ONE WEEK from the MLB Draft. Do you trust the mock drafts out there or do you expect that the Pittsburgh Pirates will do something crazy on draft day like they have done many times before? When Bob Nutting is your owner, things can go nutty, and we don’t know if the mock drafts have it right with Paul Skenes to Pittsburgh, and Dylan Crews to Washington. The Nats and general manager Mike Rizzo will have, at the very least, a choice of Skenes or Crews, and at best — a pick of both.

If it all goes by script, it will be the two LSU players, Skenes and Crews in some order of one and two in the draft which would be historic. In the 58-years of the draft, there has never been a pair of teammates selected with the first two picks. In 1978, Arizona State third baseman Bob Horner was selected No. 1 overall by the Braves, while his Sun Devils teammate, Hubie Brooks, went No. 3 overall to the Mets. Of course in that deep pitcher’s draft of 2011, the year the Pirates selected Gerrit Cole first overall, his UCLA teammate, Trevor Bauer, was Arizona’s pick at No. 3 overall.

The Nats have a $8,998,500 slot value for their first round pick, and $14,502,400 to spend in total for the whole draft. The rules are very clear on how you can spend your money. Of course a team can pay above or below the printed slot values, but in total, a team has limits. Teams can go over their total bonus pools and incur a tax, however, no team has ever gone over the 5 percent threshold that triggers a loss of future draft picks in this bonus pool era. In the rounds of 11-20, draft picks do not have an assigned slot value, but any money spent over $150,000 for those players, come out of the total bonus pool.

Rizzo is on the clock now, and should be working to pre-negotiate a deal with two players in case Pittsburgh chooses one or none of them. The bigger question for the Nats is their pick for the second round where they pick at No. 40, and many want local product, LHP Cam Johnson, who was an IMG teammate with the Nats first round pick of last year, Elijah Green.

Pittsburgh has been known to go off-script, and they could go to high-schoolers Max Clark or Walker Jenkins which is an alternate universe rumor that many are floating. Of course they could also go to Wyatt Langford who is the presumptive third best player available according to most evaluators.

If you saw any of the College World Series games, you know Skenes is the best college pitcher since Stephen Strasburg — and dare I say, he could be even better?!? Skenes is an extreme hard worker who has embraced the analytics side of baseball. He is constantly tweaking his grips and reminds me of Max Scherzer in how he meticulously approaches his bullpen sessions and starts. The only question is how long can Skenes’ arm last when he is pumping 100+ mph fastballs by the dozen? Can a baseball arm sustain that for the long-term or is Skenes built differently, like a Ferrari? A college baseball season demands a Friday night starter to pitch once every seven days, while the rigors of an MLB season is often at five day intervals. Wear and tear an arm is inevitable, and the reason many want the Nats to select Crews.

Crews and Langford are both center fielders who could play the corner outfield, and both are excellent athletes. Langford has more power (.784 SLG), and Crews the better hit tool (.426 BA). That is based on their college records. A tough choice between the two as they were separated by a miniscule .002 in OPS (1.280 vs. 1.282) but evaluators felt like Crews faced the tougher pitching in 2023.

While the only negative on Crews is that he is lacking the big power now, my scouting eye says he is a hitting clone to a young Rice product named Anthony Rendon with those barrel to ball skills that will plug gaps and rack up the hits all over the field. From a centerfield view of both hitting, they look similar. They have those quick twitch muscles, and a wrist control swing. The pluses for Crews is that he is an extremely hard worker, high energy guy, and would be a Face of the Franchise type of player. You will never see him yawning during a game or saying baseball is boring.

Langford won a Home Run Derby as a high school player. His power was seen with tape measure shots in this postseason. Crews’ power is more about clearing the fences, and not the distance. Skenes as a pitcher is in a class of his own.

Either you want the pitcher or go with the outfielder in a process of choosing between these two stars. Rizzo, by July 9, the day of the draft, must know who he covets most, and then the runner-up, so that he has a second choice in case Pittsburgh takes his first choice.

The newest CBA also made a concerted effort to limit service time manipulation for top prospects with the the prospect promotion incentive (PPI). Last season, the Mariners promoted their 21-year-old phenom, Julio Rodriguez, to their opening day roster, and because he won the American League Rookie of the Year, the Mariners were awarded a bonus first round PPI pick in this first-ever incentive. It just happens to be the 29th pick this year. In normal years, it would be a 31st pick.

For the past two months, almost every mock draft had Skenes to Washington and Crews to Pittsburgh, but that has changed this week, and Kiley McDaniel of ESPN is going with Skenes to Pittsburgh and Crews to Washington. But maybe Rizzo wants the power of Langford?

Langford has a violent swing that is built for power and where he gets beat is on good off-speed pitches. He eats poorly located fastballs for breakfast and that is where he will make his money in the Majors. In some years, Langford would be the type of player who would be a projected No. 1 pick. This year is a top heavy draft. Langford is a gamer with huge power for a player that only stands a reported 6’1″, about the same size as Crews. Here’s what Langford said after his final college game before entering the draft:

“Obviously going through my mind right now, I’m pretty disappointed [about our team losing]. But I mean, I’m just thankful to be here. I’m thankful to have this opportunity and just to be able to play with these guys.”

Wyatt Langford said to a media question via our ZOOM call after last night’s loss in the College World Series

One disturbing part of McDaniel’s article is that there could be some manipulation at work here that Crews does not want to go to Pittsburgh, or that is how some have taken his words. Truthfully knowing the Pirates’ enduring track record, could you blame anyone for a preference of Washington over the Steel City?

“Let me try to explain my thinking and the industry buzz on this one — and I’ll be careful not to make any of this sound more concrete than it is. There’s a belief from those plugged into the Pirates pick that the Crews camp will not be willing to take whatever is offered at the first pick. Some describe it as ‘not interested,’ some as ‘maybe just a negotiation ploy.’ There’s a spectrum of how to take this since it’s just indications and bluster and posturing — but I’ve been hearing since February that the Pirates have been aggressively looking into the non-Crews options, even after it became clear he was the consensus best prospect. Even when you’re planning to take the best player, those can be smart things to do — a combination of due diligence and spreading rumors to maybe get his price down — so I assumed until recently that’s what was happening.”

“If the Nationals — at No. 2 — would do whatever they needed to to get Crews to their pick, including going over their slot, let’s say to $9.25 million, that still wouldn’t really impair their ability to spend at later picks. Toss in being a big-market team that has drafted major stars (and stars from this agency) before, and you can see how a couple of phone calls could make the Crews camp more interested in the team most motivated to get him among the top few picks, rather than simply focusing on going first and taking what’s offered. If you’re Crews’ representative and you have $9.25 million waiting at the second pick — your preferred spot in general — what would you ask Pittsburgh for? At least $9.5 million, maybe full slot at $9.72 million — maybe just say $10 million? See, it all fits together nicely, provided you think this is something like what’s been happening behind the scenes.”

Kiley McDaniel wrote on ESPN

There is also some similar rumored talk from Joe Doyle of FSS Plus.

“There’s almost no circumstance where Dylan Crews falls past the second pick. Behind closed doors, there have been rumors Crews fancies the idea of playing in Washington. So much so that the Boras camp has purportedly thrown gaudy signing bonus demands at the Pirates to land Crews. That said, the Pirates hold the cards almost all the leverage.”

“The Nationals have scouted South Brunswick outfielder Walker Jenkins extensively, and have had brass out to see LSU righty Paul Skenes and Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford on almost every occasion down the stretch. That said, those efforts are likely for naught if Crews is on the board at No. 2.”

“The Nationals are squarely in wait-and-see mode, but if Crews is gone here, Skenes, Langford or Jenkins all make a lot of sense.”

— Doyle wrote on the FSS Plus site

Crews kind of seemed excited about a chance to be drafted by the Nats and play in Washington, D.C. when he talked to us in May.

“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 told us about possibly playing for the Washington Nationals

Crews might surprise you too as a person. He was projected to be a 1st round pick out of high school in Orlando, Florida, and he withdrew his name from the draft to honor his commitment to go to college at LSU. He would have been an 18-year-old multi-millionaire, and this was really before the NIL money became a huge financial incentive. His advice to high school kids:

“Man, it was a tough [decision] out of high school. I was an 18-year-old kid. Didn’t know what to expect for the future. There was a lot of, like, just if you go to [college], it was like a bad thing or something like that. So to make that decision as a young kid like that and to be able to go to [LSU] — this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to school, and I wanted to experience this and bring a National Championship to LSU.”

“So if I had to give any advice [to a high school player], it’s go to college, really. Experience this. Don’t miss out on these three years. Just develop as a player, physically and mentally for the next level, and everything will take care of itself.”

Dylan Crews said to a media question via our ZOOM call after the College World Series

Knowing general manager Mike Rizzo, he is all about the starting pitching. If Skenes is available at pick No. 2, you have to believe that Riz is taking the pitcher who has been compared to the greatest college pitching prospect, Strasburg, who went 1-of-1 to the Nats in the 2009 draft out of San Diego State.

“Starting pitching is the driver to me . . . We’ve built our [rosters] based on having a guy in the middle of the diamond who gives us a chance to win every day.”

— Rizzo said in 2018 when he had Strasburg, Scherzer, and was about to sign Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez in free agency. Less than a year after that comment — the Nats won the 2019 World Series

Here is what Skenes told us about the possibility of being drafted by the Nats:

“I try not to look at those [mock draft rankings], and I think as long as I keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing over the new few weeks, everything will just land as it should,”

Skenes said to our Ben Belford-Peltzman in May about going to Washington at the top of the draft

This is Skenes talking about Crews:

“He’s a big leaguer. He’s professional in everything that he does. It’s funny, my first college outing was against him, and he hit a home run off me. So I’ve seen him do his thing for three years. I played with him for the past two summers, and obviously the past year [at LSU]. But he is just an unbelievable worker — an unbelievable human being, and everything that he does off the field.”

“You guys can see [what Crews has done] on the field because he is such a special player. So it’s been awesome to play with him, and it will be awesome to follow him in the future.”

— Skenes said about his LSU teammate Crews

One thing for sure is that it is great for recruiting for LSU and Florida to have a top of the draft star player. LSU’s head coach Johnson thinks his two guys will be one and two in the draft.

“When you’re talking about those players [Dylan Crews and Paul Skenes], in all likelihood, are going to be drafted first and second. I think that shows a lot of development. I mean, Dylan is a better player today than he was as a freshman; Paul came out of the transfer portal and chose us over any school in the country because he believed he could develop to be the best that he could be.

In my opinion, you’re looking at the best position player in college baseball, the most prepared position player to go have success in professional baseball with Dylan, and you’re looking at the best pitcher and the most prepared pitcher to have success in professional baseball — and both of those guys are calling LSU ‘Home.’ So it’s a really big deal.”

— Johnson told our Ben Belford-Peltzman in May

There you have it for Skenes, Crews and Langford. One of those names should be called first, second, and third in just 7-days on Sunday, July 9, in Seattle, Washington — the site of this year’s All-Star game.

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