The 2023 MLB Draft is quickly approaching and the Washington Nationals hold the second overall pick. Many rumors have been flying around for the past couple of weeks regarding who the Pittsburgh Pirates, the owner of the first overall pick, will select when Rob Manfred first takes the stage on Sunday night. The Nationals selection largely hinges upon whom the Pirates decide to draft. But before we get to who I believe the Nationals will select on draft night, let’s take a look at a few of the top prospects and the rumors surrounding them.
RHP Paul Skenes – LSU
After a record setting 2023 season, Paul Skenes skyrocketed to the top of many draft rankings, and rightfully so. The righty from LSU, who some tout as the best pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg, set the SEC single-season strikeout record with 209 Ks in just 122.2 innings. The record was previous held by Ben McDonald, another LSU pitcher, who set the record with 202 Ks in 152.1 innings in 1989. Skenes put on a spectacular performance in the College World Series to lead LSU to their first national championship since 2009. The 6’6” 235 pound California native averaged 98 mph on his fastball this past season, topping out at 102. He wields a devastating slider along with a developing, but still very good, changeup. He is a generational pitching prospect and would go first overall in pretty much any other draft (and he still might), which is a testament to how strong the 2023 draft class is.
Skenes has been mocked to either the Pirates or Nationals in nearly every mock draft across the past few weeks, though a couple have predicted him to fall to the Tigers at number 3 overall. I believe that he will likely land with either the Pirates or Nationals, though there is one other prospect that may make a surprising jump to the first overall pick (more on that later).
OF Dylan Crews – LSU
In any other draft, a player who reached base in EVERY SINGLE GAME this season for the best team in the country would be a no-brainer for the first overall pick, but as has been established, this isn’t any other draft. Crews put up absurd numbers in the 2023 season, slashing .426/.567/.713 with a 1.280 OPS and 18 HRs. He is the reigning 2-time consecutive SEC Player of the Year award winner and he won the 2023 Golden Spikes award for the nation’s best collegiate player. He holds a plus-plus hit tool, a plus power tool, and will likely stick around as a solid CF defensively.
As with Skenes, Crews would be the consensus first overall pick in nearly any other draft, but there are rumors flying around as to where he will land. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel reported last week that “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” and that “the Pirates have been aggressively looking into the non-Crews options”. What McDaniel reports essentially says that the Pirates may not risk taking Crews because of the real possibility that he may reject whatever bonus they offer him, which would be a PR disaster. The most important thing that McDaniel says is “I’m now willing to say that I think Dylan Crews is an underdog versus the field to go 1-1”. If what McDaniel says is true, then Crews will likely be on the board at second overall for the Nationals taking, though if Skenes is also still available there is another story.
OF Wyatt Langford – Florida
As with the two LSU phenoms, Wyatt Langford would go first overall in nearly any other draft. His considerable raw power and elite hit tool are among the best in the draft. He has plus speed and is an average defender at worst. In 2023, he slashed .373/.498/.784 with a 1.282 OPS and 21 home runs. These are stats that would have earned him the SEC Player of the Year award in any other season. Langford walked more than he struck out and showed great plate discipline while helping to lead his team to the College World Series finals, where they ultimately lost to LSU. He will immediately be a top prospect in any farm system and could be a superstar for the next decade or more for whichever team drafts him.
Langford is unlikely to be drafted ahead of either Crews or Skenes, though the Pirates have surprised other teams when they held the first overall pick in previous years, as they did when they selected Henry Davis in the 2021 MLB Draft. Langford is most likely to be selected by the Tigers at third overall, but there is an off chance that he falls to the Rangers at fourth overall or even the Twins at fifth overall.
OF Max Clark – Franklin Community HS (Indiana)
Arguably the best high school prospect in this class, Max Clark has a great hit tool and has 20-homer potential at the minimum. In his senior year, Clark slashed an insane .646/.808/1.215 for a 2.023 OPS, hit 6 home runs, and had an astounding 52 walks compared to 5 strikeouts on the season. He has gap-to-gap power and makes hard contact at a consistent rate. His elite speed and strong arm point to a future as a center fielder. One of the better high school prospects in recent memory, whichever team drafts Clark will be getting a potential five-tool player that will patrol the outfield for years to come.
Which team drafts Clark is still very much up in the air. He will either go first overall or drop to third at the highest. Due to the potential issues with Crews and the bonus slot money, the Pirates could pivot toward a high school bat and save money to use on later picks. When asked who he thinks the Pirates will select on draft night, Jason Mackey, a Pirates beat writer, said “Everything I’ve been hearing this week is Max Clark”. It could be a smokescreen, but it would not be at all surprising if the Pirates do choose to take the high school bat over one of the college players.
What will the Nationals do?
What the Nationals decide to do with the second overall pick largely depends upon whom the Pirates select with the first overall pick. As it stands now, the Pirates will likely take any of the top players, excluding Crews. Langford, Clark, and Skenes are all very possible to be selected first overall come draft night. This means that it is very likely that Crews will be on the board when it is time for the Nationals to make their selection, but the question is whether or not Skenes will be available as well.
If both Skenes and Crews are available for the Nationals to select, it may as well be a coin toss as to whom the Nationals will opt to go with. In his mock draft, ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel writes “ I believe the Nationals’ draft board is Crews, then Skenes — with no one else even being considered”, whereas Jim Callis, who works for MLB.com, says in his mock draft “[t]he biggest lock among the early picks is the Nationals taking Skenes, even if the Pirates pass on Crews”. These two statements are completely opposite, so it is anyone’s guess as to who the Nationals truly have at the top of their draft board. If the Pirates select one of Crews or Skenes, the Nationals’ choice is made, but if the Pirates take Langford or Clark, the Nationals would have a very tough decision on their hands.
Crews is an elite hitter, one who possesses skills strong enough to not be completely ruined by the Nationals’ hitting “development”. Outside of Brady House and James Wood, no Nationals hitter in the minors has been impressing all too much, and certainly none that they have drafted. The same could be said for Skenes, though on the pitching side. He has MLB-level stuff and it would be a real challenge for the Nationals’ pitching “development” to ruin him (though it wouldn’t be surprising if they did). Since Stephen Strasburg, the only pitchers that the Nationals drafted within the past 10 or so years that have had or could make an impact on the Nationals are Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry, and Jake Irvin, though he is a stretch. The Nationals cannot make a wrong choice here (unless they take a high school bat), so either way, the Nationals’ farm will be much better, though the absolute lack of hitting at any level should make Dylan Crews the top player on the Nationals’ draft board.
I believe that the Pirates will draft Skenes, so the dream scenario is the Nationals get Dylan Crews and then draft a college pitcher in the second round, as there should be plenty of talent available. No matter who they draft, the Nationals will have come away with a generational talent that will hopefully contribute to their next World Series window.