The 2023 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft has long been anticipated by Washington Nationals fans as an opportunity to really put their rebuild into high gear, especially with LSU superstars Paul Skenes and Dylan Crews atop board with the Nats having their choice of who was left at No. 2. The Skenes-Crews debate raged for months and now we know which one will be rocking the curly dub for years to come as potentially the new face of the franchise.
However, this Draft class is also considered the deepest since 2011, which would allow Washington to expand its top-heavy farm system with some needed depth. But as we'll see, general manager Mike Rizzo and Co. opted for a familiar quality-over-quantity approach, eschewing the depth of the class but adding three very exciting talents with significant upside to the system.
Let's dig in to each pick individually and assess the class at large afterward.
Round 1 (No. 2 overall) – OF Dylan Crews, LSU
First, I'm relieved this is over and we know which guy will be representing the Nats. Skenes vs. Crews was a hotly debated topic among the fanbase and heading into the Draft the buzz was the Nats would be able to pick between the two with the Pirates linked to Wyatt Langford heavily. But Pittsburgh opted for Skenes in the end, making Rizzo's job quite simple.
Although I preferred Skenes slightly to Crews, this is a slam-dunk pick for Washington. Crews is probably the safest Nats Draft pick since Stephen Strasburg in 2009. Crews is an elite hitter who plays center field. Most fans probably know the deal by now. If you want to nitpick weaknesses, he hits the ball on the ground a little too often and his defense in center field is more adequate than plus. But Crews is a fantastic baseball player nobody thought would end up in Washington before the season started. Crews also has a big personality and should immediately become the face of the franchise and get to the big leagues next season.
Round 2 (No. 40) – 3B Yohandy Morales, Miami
I imagine this was a straight value, best player available pick by the Nats. To be honest, I never paid any attention to Morales before the Draft as there never seemed a chance he would be an option here. Morales was ranked the 24th-best player in my composite Draft ranking and in a typical Draft is a player who is likely gone in the teens. So, you can't beat the value. Morales is a huge guy with huge power and contact concerns who may have to move to first base or a corner-outfield spot. I like the pick because there is a definite need for a guy with game-changing power in the middle of this lineup and the system is barren at first base outside TJ White.
However, you do wonder why so many teams passed on Morales. Historically, the odds of the Nats being right and everyone else being wrong are … not high. The Nats also like this profile of player but have no real track record of actually developing them. Those two things should make you think a bit. But I like the pick.
Round 3 (No. 71) – RHP Travis Sykora, Round Rock (Texas) High School
Here is the inflection point of this Draft for the Nats. The Nats either floated Sykora down this low with a pre-Draft deal or decided he was too good to pass on and went all in with this pick, knowing it would severely hinder their ability to do much the rest of the Draft. Sykora is one of the best prep pitchers in the class and the No. 43 player in the composite ranking. Once Sykora didn't go on Day 1, he's a guy you figured was ticketed for college, especially considering he would have been Draft-eligible again as a sophomore. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see Sykora's name announced to start Day 2. He was high on my list and someone I expected they may target with their second-round pick. As a player, Sykora is reminiscent of Lucas Giolito at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds already with a triple-digit fastball. Interestingly, his primary secondary pitch is a splitter, which is quite rare for high-school pitchers. Like most tall, lanky prep flamethrowers, there is a wide range of outcomes, and he is a long-term project. But the upside is immense. While Crews will be the player who shapes this Draft going forward, if Sykora becomes a good MLB starter, this could be a franchise-altering Draft.
Round 4 (No. 102) – OF Andrew Pinckney, Alabama
Pinckney is older at 22 years old, but is a tooled-out outfield prospect who performed at a very high level in the best conference in college baseball. He's a big guy who makes hard contact, runs well, throws well and can play all three outfield positions. He also struck out 22 percent of the time as a college senior, which isn't great. This another profile the Nats historically love but rarely develop. Famously, Pinckney went 3-for-3 with a homer vs. Skenes this season. I think this was a pretty good pick taking a legit prospect who will sign for under slot and has a chance to be a big leaguer.
Round 5 (No. 138) – SS Marcus Brown, Oklahoma State
Brown is a light-hitting, contact-oriented shortstop who should stay at the position but will have to hit more to avoid getting stuck in the upper minors. Ranked No. 199 in the composite ranking, this is a logical pick. Brown will likely sign at a discount despite having college eligibility left and has utility player upside in the majors. Shortstop is a black hole in the system behind CJ Abrams and Ildemaro Vargas – Vargas has been mentioned as a potential trade piece – so Brown fills a need.
Round 6 (No. 165): 2B Gavin Dugas, LSU
Round 7 (No. 195): C Ryan Snell, Lamar
Round 8 (No. 225): LHP Jared Simpson, Iowa
Round 9 (No. 255): RHP Thomas Schultz, Vanderbilt
Round 10 (No. 285): SS Phillip Glasser, Indiana
We're going to lump these five picks together as they serve a common purpose. They are all college seniors with no eligibility who already sigend for $20K each, saving over a million dollars and allowing the Nats to pay for Sykora. Dugas is potentially one worth watching as he was a big contributor to LSU's national championship and is Crews' best friend. He has some potential. I don't know much about the other four guys, and it seems likely they will be guys you gloss over in low-level Minor League box scores in future years. If the Nats actually get anything out of this group, it's an unexpected bonus.
Grade: C, for turning in the assignment on time and doing the minimum amount required
Round 11 (No. 315): RHP Gavin Adams, Indian River State
Round 12 (No. 345): RHP Travis Sthele, Texas
Round 13 (No. 375): LHP Liam Sullivan, Georgia
Round 14 (No. 405): OF Elijah Nunez, TCU
Round 15 (No. 435): RHP Mikey Tepper, Liberty
Round 16 (No. 465): RHP Austin Amaral: Stetson
Round 17 (No. 495): RHP Merrick Baldo, Loyola Marymount
Round 18 (No. 525): C Nate Rombach, Dallis Baptist
Round 19 (No. 555): RHP James Ellwanger, Magnolia West High School (Texas)
Round 20 (No. 585): RHP Isaac Ayon, Oregon
Let's go over this group and address the elephant in the room. Anyone drafted on Day 3 can receive $150K without any of it counting toward the team's Draft pool. Only the amount over $150K counts. Adams, the 11th-round pick, is more a seventh-round talent you would have expected the Nats to sign for maybe $400K (250K toward the pool), but surprisingly Adams announced immediately that he would be fulfilling his commitment to Florida State. Something went wrong here. Adams was the very first pick of Day 3 and you'd think the Nats would have had a verbal agreement in place with this selection. The Nats have never failed to sign an 11th-round pick until now and a JUCO pitcher in Round 11 historically signs in almost every instance. To waste the pick is probably not meaningful to the future of the Nationals, but also does not paint a great picture and reeks of miscommunication. It's also possible a deal was in place and Adams got increased NIL money from FSU. Even so, it's up to the agent to not allow a player to go back on their word with a Major League team.
Ellwanger, the No. 123 player in the composite ranking, seems unlikely to sign. Teams usually take a late-round flier on a high-school player they can turn to if one of their top picks does not end up signing. However, maybe Adams' decision to go to FSU is tied to this pick. Perhaps, the Nats think they will have enough money remaining to pry Ellwanger from his Dallas Baptist commitment. A lot of similar late-round high school picks have already confirmed their intent to go to college, but Ellwanger has not yet made such a declaration. The odds seem low, but if somehow Ellwanger were to sign, it would take the sting away from Adams' decision and really bolster this class. Don't get your hopes up.
As for everyone else picked on Day 3, they're almost certainly just organizational depth guys who don't get out of A ball. That's just how this works. Maybe you get your next Jake Alu. You'll be thrilled if you do.
Grade: I, pending Ellwanger's situation. If Ellwanger goes to DBU, this is a brutal Day 3.
After Crews in Round 1, the Draft did not exactly play out as I anticipated. I expected to end up with a larger haul of prospects due to the incredible depth of this Draft class. Instead, Rizzo and Co. are betting big on Morales and Sykora to become big-time contributors down the line.
If you watched ESPN's broadcast on Day 1, Kiley McDaniel made a point that some MLB front offices operate under a system of going all out in the first three rounds as most MLB talent comes within the top 100 picks.
I am admittedly conflicted about this path. Crews was a no-brainer at No. 2 overall. And Morales and Sykora were great values in Rounds 2 and 3, so the Nats played the board well in that respect. This Draft was especially deep in exciting prep prospects and I wanted the Nats to go home with one, and they are with Sykora. I do like the Pinckney pick in Round 4, as well. With the big three plus Pinckney, there is a whole lot to be excited about. However …
There are some elements of past Drafts gone wrong prevalent in this haul. The quality-over-quantity approach has largely led to the implosion of the Major League product over the years. The Nats have had more productive recent Drafts by playing it more by the book. Additionally, the team continues to target a similar profile of player that they frankly haven't done a good job developing: the physically imposing position player with big power and contact issues, and the tall, lanky prep pitcher who throws hard but will need a lot of work. And when you see players like that slide down the board, you wonder why. Perhaps the Nats floated both players with pre-Draft promises. We don't know. But if they got there organically, it's hard to give the Nats the benefit of the doubt that they're right and everyone else is wrong. History suggests otherwise.
There are likes and dislikes here, but in the end, this is the Dylan Crews Draft for the Nats. They very well may have gotten their next superstar and face of the franchise. If Crews plays up to his ability, he will be one of the best players in the game and that alone will make this a good Draft and anything that comes behind it a bonus.
Overall Grade: A- (Would improve to an A if Ellwanger signs)