Image credit: Dylan Crews (Courtesy LSU)
From the moment Louisiana State outfielder Dylan Crews’ name became known around college baseball, he has existed in rarefied air.
He started off as one of the most highly-touted recruits to end up on a college campus in recent years. Leading up to the 2020 draft, Crews removed his name from consideration despite at one point being thought of as a potential first-round pick.
Then he wasted no time in becoming one of the most dynamic players in college baseball. Crews hit .362/.453/.663 with 18 home runs as a freshman and backed that up by hitting .349/.463/.691 with 22 homers this year.
This summer, he’s one of the rare players spending a second campaign with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, something that only a few players each year can say.
Now, he’ll go into the 2023 season as the best prospect in college baseball and perhaps the favorite to be selected first overall in next year’s draft. The move to go the college route has worked out for Crews.
“It was the best decision to go to college, because I felt like I wasn’t the best player (I could be) coming out of high school into the draft,” said Crews, a product of Florida’s Lake Mary High.
“That was my goal to go to college and develop as a player mentally and physically. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Crews has plenty of individual skills that jump out right away—more on that later—but perhaps what stands out about him most is how well-rounded his game already is.
Few players go into their draft season with as many tools at his disposal as Crews has. Even fewer arrive on a college campus that way, but that’s the kind of player he was as far back as when he was 15 years old, which is when LSU coach Jay Johnson first saw Crews play.
“Some guys have talent. Very few have talent and usable skill, and he clearly had both of those things,” Johnson said.
When you start to look at individual tools, it’s hard not to start by talking about the kind of power Crews has.
And boy does he ever have power. Enough power, in fact, to elicit reactions from scouting sections at stadiums, and that’s saying something. Scouts are paid to watch the best players do incredible things, and as a result, they’re largely desensitized from what goes on in front of them on the field.
But there are exceptions. Take for instance a home run Crews hit during the CNT training camp, which took place around the July 4 weekend in North Carolina. Against Texas Christian righthander Kade Morris in the second game of the five-game exhibition series, Crews turned around a slider and hit it over the famous bull hovering over the left field wall at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Everyone in the park knew it was gone as soon as he made contact, and it left a section full of scouts behind home plate shaking their heads admiringly, and in some cases, mumbling choice four-letter words in amazement.
No one is shocked by Crews’ power displays at this point, and yet, it’s still enough to impress even the most hardened evaluator.
Where Crews has alleviated some offensive concerns over the last couple of years, however, is in his bat-to-ball skills.
He swung and missed quite a bit as a senior in high school, which pushed him down some draft boards and likely hastened his decision to go to LSU. Since then, all he’s done is leave no doubt that those worries were largely unwarranted.
His 100 strikeouts over two seasons in the Southeastern Conference—a rate just shy of 19%—isn’t an exorbitant number by any stretch, and at this time last year, when Crews was on the CNT after his freshman campaign, one coach working with him saw him as having the best bat-to-ball skills on the squad.
It all means that Crews’ combination of hitting ability plus power makes him a special offensive talent, putting him in, you guessed it, rarefied air when it comes to comparisons.
“It’s the best combination of both that I’ve seen in a very long time,” Johnson said. “The only guy I can come up with in recent times is Spencer Torkelson.”
The defensive skills that play well in the outfield, including good speed underway and a strong arm, have always been apparent, but this past season was big for Crews in establishing himself as a premium defensive prospect.
After playing right field for the Tigers in 2021, he shifted over to center field for 2022 and didn’t miss a beat, showcasing some of the finer points of his defensive game along the way.
“He’s really good at going back on balls. We (coaches) obviously position the defense, but he has good feel for the game and the series goes along. He’s always in the right spot,” Johnson said.
“He did a good job leading the outfield and being more vocal the longer he was out there this year and he has a tremendous throwing arm. So he’s really become complete and there were some plays in the regional, the SEC Tournament and the last series at Vanderbilt where you go like, ‘Wow, this isn’t even a question mark anymore.’ ”
Crews does it all with an “aw shucks” demeanor that might come off as manufactured—he is a potential first overall pick, after all—if it weren’t for the fact that he wears his sincerity and earnestness on his sleeve.
For example, when asked just as the CNT training camp was getting underway if he was excited about the idea of playing in the Netherlands, where the final roster of 26 players was slated to go after its exhibition schedule in North Carolina, Crews wasn’t thinking that way just yet.
“I just really hope I make the team, honestly,” he said.
Spoiler alert: Crews, who was enough of a lock that he likely would have been left off the final roster only for injury reasons, made the trip to the Netherlands, where the CNT took part in the Dutch baseball festival known as Honkbalweek Haarlem.
That level of humility is no surprise to Johnson, however.
“He’s got everything in front of him individually. He’s going to be a major league player, going to be an all-star someday—potentially MVP—and I say that really, really believing that,” Johnson said.
“Yet, he’s so invested in our success here, and as a coach coming into a new program, when you get your best player on your page about those things, it really, really helps you build a program.”
With Crews’ singular focus on team success, he has a lot to look forward to next season.
He’s been well protected in the Tigers’ lineup each of the last two seasons, but the 2023 lineup projects to be on another level. In addition to the return of several key pieces, including CNT teammate Tre’ Morgan, LSU has been extremely busy in the transfer portal, most notably to add BA Freshman of the Year Tommy White from North Carolina State.
“Coach J is definitely not messing around in the transfer portal right now,” Crews said with a smile. “I’m really looking forward to seeing all the talent that comes along this year and I know we’re getting a lot of great guys now.”
A discussion about what Crews needs to work on in the eyes of coaches and evaluators is a nitpicking exercise if there ever were one, but Crews doesn’t quite see it that way.
“I’m really just trying to improve everything, honestly,” he said.
Crews is almost inarguably the best player in college baseball already. He’s laser-focused on team success and he’s committed to maxing out his ability throughout the 2023 season.
The team that ends up with the first pick next year wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t perform due diligence to explore every option with the selection, but it’s easy to see how one could watch Crews a time or two and quickly decide that there’s no alternative.