Image credit: Dylan Crews (Courtesy LSU)
Before the 2023 season started, I circled last week’s Louisiana State-Tennessee series on the calendar as a chance to potentially see the first two picks in the draft match up against one another.
Seven weeks into the season, that series did feature a pair of players who have a real chance to be the first and second players selected, and those players lived up to the hype—though they were actually playing on the same team.
LSU righthander Paul Skenes has dominated his competition through seven weeks, showing improved stuff and consistent performance each time he’s stepped on the rubber. He’s overtaken Dollander as the top college arm in the class and out-pitched him last Thursday as the two righties faced off.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say Crews has been the best hitter in the country and Skenes has been the best pitcher in the country.
Crews recently had a 26-game hitting streak come to an end but through 29 games in the season, he leads all Division I batters with a .531 average. He also leads the country with a .659 on-base percentage and has reached base safely in every game this season. His .927 slugging percentage is third in the country behind two college first basemen: Fairleigh Dickenson’s Luke Cantwell (.951) and Florida’s Jac Caglianone (.935). If he maintains this sort of pace he has a shot to lead the nation in each triple-slash category and he’s also topping the leaderboard in advanced offensive stats with a .671 wOBA and a 246 wRC+. He’s third in the country with a 196 BaGS+, only behind Florida’s duo of Wyatt Langford (208) and Caglianone (208).
Likewise, Skenes leads the nation in a multitude of pitching categories. No one in the country has struck out more than his 83 batters, and just Texas-San Antonio righthander Simon Miller is ahead of him in ERA. Miller has posted a 0.55 mark out of the bullpen, while Skenes has posted a 0.87 ERA after seven starts. He has the lowest opponent batting average allowed, at just .127, and leads the country with a 51.9% strikeout rate. He’s the only qualified pitcher who is currently striking out over half of the batters he’s faced. With just a 5% walk rate, Skenes also has a healthy lead in K-BB% at 46.9%—quite a bit ahead of No. 2 (Wake Forest lefthander Sean Sullivan at 39.3%). He also tops the leaderboard with a 203 DIGS+.
Crews and Skenes both have the talent and performance to become the first back-to-back picks from the same school in the history of the draft. It’s a bit surprising that in the 58-year history of the draft, there’s never been a college duo to manage the feat.
But it’s true!
The closest pairing in recent years is the 2011 UCLA righthander duo of Gerrit Cole and Trevor Baur. Cole ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the class and Bauer ranked No. 5. The Pirates selected Cole No. 1 overall and signed him for $8 million, while the D-backs selected Bauer at No. 3 overall and signed him for $3.4 million. Virginia lefthander Danny Hultzen was selected in between the two Bruins, by the Mariners, and signed for $6.35 million in the final draft before baseball switched to the current bonus pool era.
Below are all the draft years that featured multiple players selected among the top 10 picks from the same college, led by the only year with three teammates selected among the top 10:
- Philip Humber, RHP, Mets (No. 3)
- Jeff Niemann, RHP, Devil Rays (No. 4)
- Wade Townsend, RHP, Orioles (No. 8)
1976 Arizona State
1978 Arizona State
1988 Oklahoma State
1999 Southern California
In our first in-season mock draft of the season, we had Crews going off the board with the No. 1 pick and Skenes going off the board at No. 3, though our scout picking at No. 2 for the Nationals specifically mentioned thinking about Skenes for that spot.
Since that mock draft in mid-March, Skenes has only continued to impress and while I won’t go as far as comparing him to Stephen Strasburg just yet—it’s telling that multiple scouts haven’t waved away such lofty comps immediately and instead said things like “I don’t think it’s hyperbolic.”
As things stand today the LSU pairing might be the favorites for the first two picks of the draft. We still have plenty of SEC baseball to get through and the draft won’t take place for another three months, but it’s exciting to realize there’s a genuine chance for draft history in July.
Now we just have to wait and see if it actually happens.
Thanks to Matt Eddy for research assistance.