The Nationals knew they were going to get their pick of the best position player or the best pitcher when they went on the clock for the No. 2 overall selection in the 2023 MLB Draft.
When Louisiana State University right-hander Paul Skenes went off the board to the Pirates at No. 1, it was clear the Nats were going to land the best position player in fellow LSU Tiger Dylan Crews.
The accolades for the outfielder are nearly endless.
He was the No. 1 draft prospect per Baseball America and No. 2 per MLB Pipeline. He was the recipient of the Golden Spikes Award and Rawlings/American Baseball Coaches Association Gold Glove while winning the national championship with LSU this year. He was a consensus first-team All-American, Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and named to the SEC All-Defensive Team in 2022 and 2023.
By being named the SEC’s best player for the second straight season, he became the first player to win the award in consecutive years.
Crews hit .426 with 16 doubles, two triples, 18 home runs, 70 RBIs, 71 walks, 46 strikeouts, six stolen bases and 100 runs scored in 71 games, reaching base safely in all of them. He posted a .567 on-base percentage and a .713 slugging percentage while leading the SEC and ranking among NCAA Division I hitters in runs scored (first), walks (first), hits (second, 110), on-base percentage (second) and batting average (third).
He clearly was the top position player in this year’s draft. But when the Nationals selected him last night, they did something they haven’t done since they drafted Anthony Rendon with the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft: Selected a college bat in the first round.
Since 2011, the Nats have now made 11 first-round picks. Seven were pitchers and, as of now, four have been position players. But Carter Kieboom (2016), Brady House (2021) and Elijah Green (2022) were all selected out of high school. Crews became the first bat to come from the collegiate ranks.
“The position you pick and the year that you pick it, I think that has everything to do with it,” said general manager Mike Rizzo. “We pick the most impactful type of candidate we can in each and every round, regardless of where they play or what level of competition they're playing at. We felt the years past that those high school bats were the most impactful guys left on the board. And we felt this year that Dylan was a skill set that we couldn't pass this year.”
Crews enters the Nationals system more advanced than the other three, not only because he played more in college but because of where he played in college.
The SEC was above and beyond every other conference when it came to baseball this year. Ten SEC schools sent teams to the NCAA Division I baseball tournament, and three reached the College World Series, including finalists LSU and Florida.
“I think it's probably one of the best leagues we've seen and the best the SEC has been so far,” said Nationals vice president of scouting Kris Kline. “I think the reason for that is you're seeing a lot of kids who may normally stay in the Pac-12 or the ACC, they're going to the SEC because the competition's better, there's bigger crowds. It's more appealing to them to go in and play in that kind of environment.”
“I was just blessed to have such a great organization,” Crews said of his time at LSU. “And great teammates like Paul to push me and develop me. They had everything. They had all the resources that I needed, every tool that I needed, and on top of that I had some of the best coaches in the country being able to coach me. So like I said, I was very thankful. They pushed me to a whole other limit that I really didn't think I could reach. And now that I'm here, I know that I can hit another level. So yeah, I'm just gonna keep working. I was blessed to have great people around me to help me get better. And I'm just looking forward to being surrounded by just as good as people and if not better people in the Nationals organization.”
Crews was actually a top prospect out of high school heading into the 2020 MLB Draft, one the Nationals were watching closely. But he honored his commitment to LSU and came out a national champion and the No. 2 pick in the draft three years later.
“As a young kid, it's hard to make that decision, taking yourself out and going to college,” he said. “And looking back, it was the best decision I've ever made. I've definitely grown, for sure.”
That growth from playing college ball may now fast-track him to the major leagues. He already has an ETA of 2024 as one of the most experienced and developed position players in this class.
“Probably just the timetable of how they get there,” Kline said of the upside of drafting college players instead of high schoolers. “Probably show up in the big leagues a little quicker unless something clicks with the other guys a little faster. But those guys are going to take a little time. But I would just say the timeline of them reaching their potential.”
The experience Crews had at LSU and in the SEC has set him up for the level of competition he’s going to face in the majors. Something prep draft picks like House and Green are having to learn at the lower levels of the Nats’ minor league system.
“That's the highest level of competition he can play at right now,” Kline said. “And if you think about it, a lot of those pitchers and players that he was playing with or against are going to be guys that he plays with or against in the big leagues. So that's the best competition that he can face at this point. So that was a good benchmark for him to evaluate him as a player.”
Crews celebrated with his friends and family last night. He’ll be honored at Nationals Park in the coming weeks as the franchise’s highest draft pick in over a decade. Then he’ll get to work on adjusting from the best college conference in the country to professional baseball, which he already believes will be easy for him because of his experience.
“The transition seemed pretty easy as I got to LSU,” he said, “and I feel like the transition is going to be pretty easy as I go and play for the Nationals."