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Four Of A Kind? Examining The Candidates For The No. 1 Pick In the 2023 Draft

Image credit: Chase Dollander (Bill Mitchell)

Headlined by three of the top four draft prospects in the country, in addition to a myriad of other talented players on both teams, this weekend’s Louisiana State-Tennessee matchup has more on the line than simply the No. 1 and No. 11 teams in the country battling it out in Baton Rouge. 

Entering the 2023 season, scouts had circled this weekend on the calendar thanks to a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 prospect showdown between Louisiana State outfielder Dylan Crews and Tennessee righthander Chase Dollander.

The landscape has shifted since then, but a tantalizing Dollander-Crews matchup is no less interesting simply because Crews’ teammate, righthander Paul Skenes, has overtaken Dollander as the top pitching prospect in the class. 

If anything, the series is now heightened even more, as scouts will be watching to see which ultra-talented righthander out pitches who, and whether or not Dollander’s 95 mph fastball is enough to cool down a scorching offensive start from Crews.

While this matchup could potentially feature the first three picks of the 2023 draft, Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford is busy in Gainesville building his own resume to try and ensure that order isn’t locked in, and his No. 2 Gators team faces off against Auburn this weekend.

These four players have received plenty of positive praise from the industry so far this season, and could help make the 2023 class one of the best we’ve seen in recent years. 

So, just how good is this fearsome foursome? How much separation is there between them and how do the players compare and contrast with one another? 

That’s what we’re exploring in today’s stock watch.


Let’s begin with the top two players on the board: Crews and Langford.

Track Record

The two are both right-right, power-hitting outfielders with similar tool sets and overall profiles but different backgrounds. 

Crews entered the 2020 draft cycle as one of the best hitting prospects in the high school class, a player who combined electric bat speed with a lengthy underclass track record of hitting performance. He didn’t fully live up to those expectations over the 2019 summer, however, and showed more swing-and-miss than scouts wanted to see. Without a full 2020 spring season to rebound in Florida, Crews was unable to reclaim his first-round status. Before he withdrew from the 2020 draft, Crews ranked as the No. 54 prospect in the class, but his summer struggles, right-right profile and strong commitment to LSU meant teams would have to wait three years for another shot at him. 

Langford, on the other hand, came to college with significantly less fanfare. He went to school about two and a half hours north of Crews’ Orlando-area Lake Mary High, at Trenton (Fla.) High—just 30 miles west of Gainesville. He never ranked on our 2020 draft list and looking back at my notes for the class I had just one evaluator’s comment on him at the time: “Good bat. Square body.” Seems like an understatement in hindsight.

Both Crews and Langford have done nothing but produce in their time in the SEC. 

Crews got a headstart as an everyday player from his freshman season, and hit 40 home runs during the 2021 and 2022 seasons combined, with an OPS greater than 1.100 each year. Through his first 24 games in 2023, he has been the best hitter in college baseball with a .531/.658/.988 slash line, nine home runs and more than twice as many walks as strikeouts. He leads all Division I hitters in batting average and on-base percentage and is second in slugging percentage.



Langford played in just four games as a freshman in 2021, but he turned in one of the best offensive seasons in program history in his breakout 2022 campaign, when he tied the Florida single-season home run record, with 26, while hitting .356/.447/.719 with nine doubles and nearly as many walks (36) as strikeouts (44). Langford missed a few games after fouling a ball off his body, but returned to play last weekend and is similarly on an offensive tear, hitting .386/.521/.843 with seven home runs, seven doubles and 17 walks to just nine strikeouts.

Performance for both? Check. But how about the tools?

Tools Comparison

Both players have a chance for plus hit tools with at least plus raw power. Depending on which scout you talk to, some may prefer Crews’ pure hitting ability and give Langford an edge in the raw power department, while others might have them neck in neck or with the grades flipped. 

Both players have maintained high averages over sizeable samples against high-quality pitching in the SEC, and while neither player has elite pure contact rates—with both in the 75-80% range for their careers—the combination of all-fields in-game power, high walk rates (15.2% for Crews, 13.2% for Langford) and in-zone contact (85% for both) makes them extremely well-rounded hitters. 

They both handle velocity well, with excellent pure bat speed. Crews has slashed .424/.527/.728 against 92-plus mph pitches with an 85% contact rate while Langford has slashed .437/.540/.887 with the same 85% contact rate.

While the two both swing-and-miss more frequently against breaking balls and offspeed offerings—a 38% miss rate for Crews and a 31% miss rate for Langford—overall they have performed well against secondaries, especially Crews. Crews has a .340/.410/.665 slash line against breaking and offspeed pitches while Langford has a .254/.318/.470 slash line against such pitches. 

In terms of defensive profile, both players have made improvements since their high school days and early years in college. Many in the industry believed Crews was a safe bet to be a corner outfielder at the next level. He made a successful transition from right field as a freshman to everyday center fielder in each of the past two seasons and has looked like a good defender while doing so. Langford was a converted catcher who also played a bit of infield in high school but has mostly handled left field with Florida, with a few games in center. Langford’s defensive boost comes more from a jump in running speed than role change.

While both players are still more likely to wind up as solid defensive corner outfielders, they will likely begin their careers in center field in the pro ranks. Crews is praised for his consistent routes, reads and first step, with above-average running ability, and has the benefit of a large sample of solid defensive play at the position. Langford has actually turned in more explosive run times over the last eight months or so, clocking 70-grade times, even if most scouts don’t believe his speed will consistently play at that level. That increased speed should allow him to get a chance to prove his defensive chops in the middle of the outfield. 

Both players have a chance to be solid or good defensive outfielders, though Crews likely gets a bit of an edge here simply for the fact that he’s actually done it in center field. Likewise, Crews is ahead in terms of arm strength by at least a half-grade, though neither player’s arm would be a problem in any outfield position and is the least important tool we’ve discussed. 

Swing Mechanics

After tools, the last area to touch on is the swings themselves. While Crews and Langford get similar results, they do it in different ways and some scouts prefer one swing to the other.

Crews begins in a relaxed, upright position with a slight lean back away from the plate and his bat rested on his shoulder. He makes a simple move on the pitcher’s leg lift, pulling his torso forward and his hands and barrel with him in the same direction to get into a more traditional stance. He uses a standard leg kick to start his stride, staying on a balanced back leg and has a very slight hand shift down and back away from the pitcher, with a barrel tip in the same motion and then fires his hands through the zone with a slightly uphill bat path. The swing itself is fast, fluid and in the zone for plenty of time. While Crews has a few different cues and timing mechanisms, he is consistently on time and does a great job with his lower half balance, while trusting his hand speed and natural strength to let the ball travel and still do plenty of damage. 

Crews does have a notable two-strike adjustment, and this aspect of his swing was on full display last summer when he hit with Team USA. At that time, Crews was employing a more crouched and significantly wider base, with an extremely early load that got him into his stride before the ball left the pitcher’s hand. This spring, it appears Crews is still doing that, but only in two-strike counts. 

Langford has a simpler mechanical setup with a more direct approach to the baseball. He has a low handset as he stands in the box, with a bit of bat waggle before making a similar leg kick move to Crews to start his load, though his hands are much quieter with a very subtle and slight shift back toward the catcher before he rips off his swing, which is also a bit less steep than Crews. He doesn’t have the same exaggerated two-strike approach that Crews has shown, though he does have a tendency to choke up on the bat in those scenarios, with a bit less pre-pitch bat waggle. 

Langford’s lower half isn’t quite as consistent as Crews, in terms of balance or direction, and he has shown a tendency at times to step out a bit toward the third base side, which can create some issues—particularly with secondaries on the outer third. 

“Langford has a very simple swing to get to his power,” said one scout. “He is simple and short. Crews has a bit more going on but he might have a bit more natural timing. He doesn’t look bad on pitches very often. His natural timing is great. And Langford can go chasing a bit more but we are really splitting hairs here.

“Both these guys have power, both have been off the charts consistently in games. They are both good hitters. They both will use the field. I think Crews is a bit more twitchy, a bit more explosive.”


Now let’s move on to the top pitchers in the class: Skenes and Dollander.

Track Record

Dollander entered the year as the consensus top pitching prospect in the class, but he wasn’t always so highly regarded by the industry. He was unranked on our 2020 BA 500 out of high school and at the time threw in the upper 80s and lower 90s. He began his career at Georgia Southern, where he was solid as a starter in 49 innings, though he did struggle a bit with his walks and posted a 12.6% walk rate. 

Following the 2021 season, Dollander transferred to Tennessee, where he had his breakout campaign and posted a 2.39 ERA for a Tennessee team that was the best team in the country, quickly working his way into the team’s Friday night role. He struck out 108 batters in just 79 innings, and walked only 13, lowering his walk rate to an elite 4.3% rate.

Skenes likewise wasn’t a prominent draft prospect coming out of high school. Like Dollander, he didn’t rank on our 2020 BA 500, but he quickly made his mark on the college baseball landscape with Air Force and made Baseball America’s All-American first team thanks to his performance on both sides of the ball. He posted a 2.70 ERA as a reliever in 26.2 innings and hit .410/.486/.697 with 11 home runs and 21 doubles as a catcher, first baseman and designated hitter. It was more of the same in 2022. He moved into a starting pitching role, posted a 2.73 ERA in 85.2 innings and continued to hit for power and average, with a .314/.412/.634 slash line. 

Skenes was a member of USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team in both the 2021 and 2022 summers, and following the 2022 season he became one of several prominent players who transferred to Louisiana State to form the most talented team in the country.  

Both Dollander and Skenes have been their respective teams’ ace so far this season, though it’s Skenes who has been the most dominant pitcher in the country. 

Now in a pitching-only role, Skenes has posted a 0.72 ERA over 37.1 innings, with a nation-leading 71 strikeouts (53.0 K%) compared to just seven walks (5.2 BB%). He’s thrown at least six innings in all six starts, has struck out at least 11 batters in each start and has allowed just three extra-base hits—all doubles—with a .115 opponent batting average. He’s second in the nation in ERA, best in WHIP (0.56), best in hits per nine innings allowed (3.38) and second in strikeouts per nine innings (17.12).

Dollander has also been outstanding in his first stix starts, though when looking at his numbers side-by-side with Skenes, they seem more … human. He has posted a 3.93 ERA over 34.1 innings with 53 strikeouts (37.9 K%) and eight walks (5.7%). He’s not yet pitched through a complete seven innings and has given up more extra-base damage: three home runs, two triples and six doubles.


Both pitchers entered the year with some of the best pure stuff in the class, but each has looked different from a year ago through six starts. 

Skenes has taken a step forward seemingly across the board. His fastball velocity is up more than four full ticks on average, going from 93.7 mph in 2022 to 98.1 mph in 2023. His slider has a bit more power as well, but it’s the shape of the pitch that is truly different year-over-year. After being more of a short-breaking slider with depth in 2022, it’s a true sweeper in 2023 with nearly 13 inches of horizontal break.

That’s a pair of potentially 70-grade offerings right off the bat that he’s throwing around 90% of the time, and he has still shown an occasional changeup around 90 mph that has a 54% whiff rate and looks like a third plus offering.

Starting with a pair of elite pitches and another very good one is a great starting point, and both scouts and analysts alike have praised the stuff that’s coming out of his hand so far this spring. His overall Stuff+ numbers have been among the best in the entire country—2023 draft class or not.

While we are still just getting into SEC play, Skenes’ overall miss rate has gone from 29% in 2022 to 44% in 2023. And he’s not just getting bad chases out of the zone. His 2022 in-zone miss rate was 19%. This year? 34%. 

Dollander’s no slouch when it comes to pure stuff either, and he also has a handful of plus offerings to work with. He’s throwing a fastball at 95.2 mph on average that has generated a 35% miss rate (a mark that’s close to Skenes’ 38% miss rate), as well as an 85 mph slider that is missing bats 38% of the time.

Like Skenes, he has also gone to the fastball/slider combination around 90% of the time, but has two more pitches he will mix in: an upper-80s changeup and a slower curveball in the upper 70s. All four of Dollander’s pitches have generated miss rates north of 30% even if none have been quite as electric at the top end as Skenes’ fastball/slider.

And in fact, while Skenes has improved in both velocity and shape, Dollander has remained steady with his pitch velocity year-over-year, and the shape on a few of his pitches has taken a half-step backward.

He’s lost around two inches of induced vertical break on his fastball compared to the 2022 version and the slider has looked less sharp as well, with a bit less horizontal movement and downward bite.

So far this season, Skenes has looked superior in each pitch category compared to Dollander, outside of the curveball.

Delivery & Command

Both Skenes and Dollander have excellent foundations of athleticism and clean and efficient deliveries.

However, Skenes has gone from a military academy environment at Air Force where he had many obligations outside of baseball and when he was on the field, was also focused on hitting. At LSU, Skenes has fewer off-the-field obligations, is working with former Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson and is no longer hitting in the lineup each day. In fact he hasn’t taken a single at-bat this season for the first time in his college career. 

All of those factors seem to have quite clearly allowed him to take a step forward as a pitcher. While his delivery was never problematic, it looks a bit easier and more in-sync in 2023 compared to 2022. Skenes is powerfully-built at 6-foot-6, 247 pounds and works from the third base side of the rubber. He has good tempo throughout his delivery, with a fairly standard arm stroke in the back before releasing from a lower, three-quarter slot with little to no recoil, head whack or effort.

“Skenes is about perfect in terms of delivery and build,” said one scout.

That ultra-clean, easy and repeatable delivery has allowed Skenes to take a step forward with his control and command. After walking batters at an 8.4% rate in 2021 and 2022 with Air Force, Skenes has so far walked batters at just a 5.2% rate through six starts. His overall strike percentage has improved, he’s throwing his fastball for a strike 70% of the time and his slider is just under that 70% mark. 

In fact, his in-zone slider rate is up a tick year-over-year despite the fact that he’s now throwing a sweeper, which is typically harder for pitchers to control. He’s gone from a 41.4% in-zone rate in 2022 to 43.8% so far in 2023. 

Dollander has a buttery smooth delivery of his own.

He’s not as physical as Skenes, with a 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame, but he’s an elite mover on the mound with plenty of ease to his operation. 

Dollander starts on the opposite side of the rubber, the first base side, and pairs impressive arm speed with a clean arm stroke, delivering from a three-quarter slot and finishing in a balanced position with a steady head and little to no violence. It’s subtle, but there do seem to be a few differences in Dollander’s delivery so far in 2023 compared to 2022—specifically with his back leg.

In 2022, Dollander did an exceptional job stacking his body over the rubber at leg lift and riding his back leg throughout his delivery to the plate. His posture has looked a bit off at times so far in 2023, with a bit of drift at the peak of his leg lift that carries his body slightly toward the plate and third base side. His torso has also been a bit more tilted toward third base at times.

Without being properly stacked over his back leg, that could potentially lead to some timing or syncing issues with his upper and lower halves, or cause a bit more crossfiring action in his landing—which could potentially impact control or pitch quality.

Perhaps that’s why Dollander’s fastball hasn’t been as efficient? Perhaps that’s why he’s sprayed both his fastball and slider a bit more often than he seemed to a year ago? These are simply guesses, but scouts have noted the mechanical differences, and Dollander’s strike rate has gone from 73% in 2022 to 66% so far in 2023. 

It might feel odd to critique and nitpick a pitcher like this who’s still sitting with a 95 mph fastball and has the No. 7 K-BB% in the country (32.1%), but that’s the sort of granularity teams get into when trying to separate the top players in the class. It’s also impressive that this version of Dollander is him not at his best. 

Most amateur pitchers would happily take that on their best days.

Hopefully this creates a more clear picture of the impressive talent at the top of the 2023 draft class, and emphasizes why the industry is so excited about the group. 

It’s a deep class that is led by a pair of hitters who are better than we’ve seen come out of the college ranks in years and the same is true of the two arms.

“I just think the top of the draft is really deep,” said one scout. “I think these four will go 1-2-3-4.”

How all four continue to perform against the gauntlet of the SEC will give draftniks something to pay attention to each week of the season. For three of the four, a big challenge awaits this weekend, just as the major league season gets underway. 

And especially for Pirates, Nationals and Tigers fans—perhaps more hope for the future will be found this weekend in Baton Rouge than in Cincinnati, Washington or Tampa Bay. 

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