Pirates make LSU's Paul Skenes top pick of 2023 MLB draft

ByAlden Gonzalez ESPN logo
Monday, July 10, 2023

SEATTLE -- Paul Skenes and Dylan Crews, star teammates on the LSU team that won the Men's College World Series, were selected with the first two picks of Major League Baseball's amateur draft on Sunday, becoming the first pair of teammates to go 1-2 in draft history.

The Pittsburgh Pirates began the draft by picking Skenes, the hard-throwing pitcher, No. 1 overall, and the Washington Nationals followed with Crews, the power-hitting outfielder.

Skenes, whose selection was announced by Seattle Mariners legend Ken Griffey Jr., became the first pitcher to go No. 1 overall since Casey Mize was selected by the Detroit Tigers in 2018.

"I was in shock when I heard," Skenes said over video conference. "A year ago, two years ago, I never thought it was a possibility to be the first overall pick. I don't know what I was expecting going into today, but it means a lot."

Skenes, 21, went 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA and a Division I-leading 209 strikeouts, breaking the single-season SEC record, in 122 innings for the LSU Tigers. The 6-foot-6 right-handerSkenes became the sixth player -- and first pitcher -- to win Most Outstanding Player at the MCWS and go No. 1 overall in the MLB draft. Phil Nevin (1992) is the only other player to do both in the same year.

Crews, meanwhile, became the first player ever to win the Golden Spikes Award, a national title and be drafted in the top five within a single year.

Skenes, ranked third heading into the draft by ESPN's Kiley McDaniel, regularly throws his fastball into the triple digits and couples it with a plus slider that could make him a major leaguer as early as 2024.

"I think I'm close," Skenes said. "I don't know exactly how close, but I'm going to do everything in my power to get there as soon as possible."

Crews, a complete hitter projected to bring above-average defense in center field, was a two-time SEC Player of the Year who slashed .426/.567/.713 with 18 homers in 71 games as a junior this past season. Nationals president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo called him "an impact type of player and a guy that helps any type of lineup."

"He can hit at the top of the lineup, he can be a middle-of-the-lineup run producer, he's got on-base percentage credentials, he's got batting-average credentials, he's got power numbers, he can steal a base, and he's a two-way player," Rizzo added. "You can't have enough of those type of players."

Crews said he has never been to Washington but saw plenty of the Nationals while growing up and watching Bryce Harper.

"Seeing him in a Nationals uniform, it was pretty awesome," Crews said. "I'm going to play my game and hopefully have as much impact as him. ... He's just a complete player."

It's the third time a school has produced multiple top-three picks in the same year, following UCLA in 2011 (Gerrit Cole, first, and Trevor Bauer, third) and Arizona State in 1978 (Bob Horner, first, and Hubie Brooks, third).

"There was no really butting heads over who was going to go 1 or 2," Crews said.

Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford, whose team lost to LSU in the championship, was drafted fourth overall by the Texas Rangers. High school outfielders Max Clark and Walker Jenkins went third to the Tigers and fifth to the Minnesota Twins, respectively, rounding out what was widely considered to be the upper tier of this draft.

The Pirates were selecting first overall for the second time in three years -- they took Henry Davis in 2021 and called him up to the major leagues three weeks earlier -- and the sixth time overall, more than any other team. They entered the draft with the highest bonus pool at just over $16 million; slot value for the No. 1 overall pick sits at $9,721,000, but teams and players are free to negotiate their own bonus.

Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said the hope is an agreement can come quickly and Skenes could pitch somewhere in the Pirates organization in 2023.

"It will have been a little while since he last pitched in the World Series, and we want to be sure that whatever that schedule and progression looks [like] makes sense for him," Cherington said.

MLB is staging the draft from Lumen Field, which sits adjacent to T-Mobile Park and hosts the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL and the Seattle Sounders FC of MLS. The draft consists of 20 rounds and will play out over the course of three days, with the first 70 picks taking place on Sunday. The Pirates were awarded the No. 1 overall pick by virtue of winning MLB's first draft lottery in December.

Grand Canyon University shortstop Jacob Wilson(Oakland Athletics), Wake Forest right-hander Rhett Lowder (Cincinnati Reds), high school catcher Blake Mitchell (Kansas City Royals), Tennessee right-hander Chase Dollander (Colorado Rockies) and high school right-hander Noble Meyer (Miami Marlins) rounded out the top 10.

Meyer, from nearby Portland, was one of a handful of prospective draft picks in attendance.

"It's incredible," Meyer said while wearing blue Nikes that coincidentally matched his new team's color scheme. "For this to be only 3 hours away from my house, to have everything going on, with all the fans here, it's mind-boggling. I love it."

Bryce Eldridge, a 6-foot-7 high schooler with aspirations of following inShohei Ohtani's footsteps and becoming a two-way player, was chosen by the San Francisco Giants with the 16th pick and is expected to get the opportunity to hit and pitch professionally. Arjun Nimmala, an Indian American high school shortstopwho has one of the highest ceilings in this draft, went 20th to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Two players who might have slipped a little more than expected were Virginia catcher Kyle Teel, who was ranked seventh in McDaniel's latest rankings and ultimately went 14th to the Boston Red Sox, and Ole Miss shortstop Jacob Gonzalez, sixth on McDaniel's rankings and selected 15th by the Chicago White Sox.

There were major questions heading into this draft about whether the No. 1 choice would be Skenes, widely considered the best pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg, or one of the four outfield prospects with similar ceilings. Like Eldridge, Skenes was a two-way star at Air Force Academy, where he also contributed as a slugging catcher, before transferring to LSU last offseason. He finished his stint with the Tigers posting a 1.11 ERA in 32 innings in the Men's College World Series, leading the school to its first baseball championship in 14 years.

The Pirates had been following Skenes since he attended El Toro High School in Lake Forest, California, the same program that produced Nolan Arenado and Matt Chapman.

"In getting to know Paul, what you understand is that from his background, you would anticipate discipline and work ethic and a service-oriented teammate -- all those things you sort of anticipate," Cherington said. "But what you learn about Paul as you get to know him is that he's got this thirst for getting better."

ESPN Stats & Information and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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