There was a natural reaction for some to Sunday’s news the Nationals drafted Dylan Crews of disappointment. Not because the Nats made a mistake taking the LSU center fielder with the No. 2 overall pick, but because the Pirates prevented them from taking Paul Skenes by making the LSU ace the No. 1 pick in the country.
For months, we kept hearing about the perfect couple the Nationals and Skenes would make. Fans and club officials alike were formulating 2024 rotations in their minds. Players openly talked about welcoming him into their clubhouse next spring and then showing the 21-year-old he wasn’t quite ready for the big leagues yet.
Of course Skenes was going to wind up a National. How could he not?
So when the announcement came shortly after 7 p.m. Sunday that the Pirates had selected him, the subsequent selection of Crews felt like some kind of letdown.
News flash: It shouldn’t feel that way. The Nationals just got themselves a bona fide No. 1 pick with the No. 2 pick, one of the most accomplished college players ever, as much of a slam-dunk prospect as you’re ever going to find.
No, Crews doesn’t pitch. But that’s about the only thing he doesn’t do exceptionally well.
“He’s got a whole bag full of tools,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He does everything well. His baseball IQ is terrific. He’s a great baserunner. He plays both sides of the ball, defensively and offensively. He’s got a propensity to barrel up baseballs. He’s an on-base percentage 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.”
Rizzo proceeded to compare Crews to another No. 1 pick talent who wound up falling to the Nationals in the No. 6 slot more than a decade ago.
“You could see the way he handled himself at the most pressure situations, his calm, cool demeanor,” the longtime GM said. “Not unlike a lot of the great players that we’ve had here in the past, Anthony Rendon and those type of players. His heartbeat is slower than most, and his pulse rate is slower. And the bigger the stage, the better he plays.”
Skenes was rightfully compared to Stephen Strasburg. Crews might well be Anthony Rendon as a center fielder instead of a third baseman.
So think about it this way: If you were hoping to draft Strasburg but had to settle for Rendon, would you have been disappointed?
Surely there’s another reason some will be frustrated by this pick: The Scott Boras factor. Boras represents Crews. He does not represent Skenes. Ergo, based on a decade’s worth of history in this town, Crews is guaranteed to turn down a massive contract extension offer from the Nats and either sign as a free agent someday with a division rival or be traded for prospects before he can ever get to that point.
Maybe that’s exactly how his career will play out. And maybe it won’t. We have no way of knowing in July 2023 what Crews is going to want to do in July 2030, or how the Nationals will operate by then. In the meantime, how about we just enjoy watching a supremely talented everyday player wearing a curly W cap – or, ugh, that block W in front of the Capitol dome logo that for some reason has taken over as the primary home look – and hope he’s an integral part of a team that makes multiple trips to the postseason and perhaps even a trip all the way to the final week of October?
If anything, the Nationals should feel emboldened now to try to put a legitimate contender on the field by 2025. Picture a lineup that has CJ Abrams, Crews, James Wood and Brady House in the first four slots, with some combination of Keibert Ruiz, Lane Thomas, Luis García, a still-productive Joey Meneses and some free agent-to-be-named rounding out the rest of the order.
(Note that Robert Hassell III, Elijah Green, Jeremy De La Rosa and Cristhian Vaquero weren’t included in that lineup. Perhaps one or more of those prospects will pan out by 2025 or later, but all of a sudden the Nationals don’t desperately need them to. They’ve got legitimate outfield depth now.)
Would it be nice to imagine a rotation headlined by Skenes, with Cade Cavalli, MacKenzie Gore, Josiah Gray and somebody else (Jake Irvin? Jackson Rutledge? Cole Henry?) behind him? Yeah, it really would. But that’s not going to happen now. So there is perhaps more pressure all of a sudden on Cavalli, Gore and Gray to live up to their potential and avoid any more injuries. It’s also entirely possible the organization will need to sign or trade for a proven starter between now and then, both of which the organization has proven it can do before.
But that’s for another time. Right now, it’s time to appreciate the world-class player the Nationals just drafted. He has a chance to mean as much, if not more, to the franchise as any player they’ve ever drafted.
That’s not reason to be disappointed.