There’s a long way to go before next summer’s MLB draft, but the early consensus points toward the Washington Nationals potentially taking one of two college superstars with the No. 2 overall pick.
The majority of prospect experts and mock drafters have LSU outfielder Dylan Crews and Tennessee pitcher Chase Dollander as the top two players in the upcoming draft. With the Pirates picking ahead of the Nationals, it’s possible that Washington’s pick will be whomever Pittsburgh passes over.
Washington general manager Mike Rizzo wouldn’t give away any secrets when he spoke with reporters Tuesday night in San Diego. But the longtime Nationals executive did say he’s excited to have a mostly “open field” of players at his choosing. The second pick is the highest the Nationals have selected since picking Bryce Harper No. 1 overall in 2010.
“When you’re picking that high in the draft, something poorly has happened the year before,” Rizzo said. “You don’t relish that situation, but it gives us a chance to make an impactful draft pick, so we’re excited. We’ve done a lot of work to begin the draft process, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Crews, who will be 21 in July, has dominated in his first two seasons at LSU. A five-tool player, Crews has hit .356 with 40 home runs, 114 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in his college career. Most early mock drafts have Crews going No. 1 overall.
Dollander, meanwhile, is the top pitcher in the draft, and Baseball America’s most recent mock draft has the Nationals taking the right-hander with the second pick. Dollander, who will also be 21 next summer, has everything that a top pitching prospect needs: a high-90s heater, a wipeout breaking ball and command. As a sophomore at Tennessee in 2022, Dollander was the SEC Pitcher of the Year after posting a 10-0 record and a 2.39 earned-run average with 108 strikeouts in 79 innings.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Crews and Dollander will still be the top two prospects heading into the draft in July. Injuries, poor performance in the spring or the ascent of other prospects can always shake up the draft rankings.
It’s also possible that the Pirates or Nationals like one of the other players on the board more, or they strategize the best way to use their bonus pool money and take a different player. The other top players in the draft class include Ole Miss shortstop Jacob Gonzalez and Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford — two proven college bats with defensive upside.
Take last year’s draft as an example. Most mock drafts had the Nationals poised to take college catcher Kevin Parada with the fifth selection. But the Texas Rangers made the most surprising pick of the draft, taking Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker third overall. That led to high school outfielder Elijah Green — who some scouts believed had the highest upside in the class — falling to the Nationals.
The Green pick was the Nationals’ first time picking inside the top 10 since 2011. Rizzo’s hope — and the future of the rebuilding franchise could depend on it coming true — is that this stretch of high draft selections is as successful as the period between 2009 to 2011. The Nationals picked Stephen Strasburg No. 1 overall in 2009, Bryce Harper with the first selection in 2010 and Anthony Rendon with the sixth pick in 2011.
It’s not just the first round that matters, though. The entire draft could serve as a vital way for Rizzo to continue stocking up the farm system. Just 18 months ago, the Nationals had arguably the worst collection of prospects in baseball. Now, after trading away Trea Turner and Max Scherzer in 2021 and Juan Soto in August, MLB Pipeline now ranks Washington’s farm system as the league’s 15th best.
“It gives us the chance to really replenish the farm system,” Rizzo said. “We not only pick two in the [first round], but we pick two in each round, which is also very important. When you’re up that high in each round, you’re hoping to get really good, impactful players.”
It’s hard to complain about having the second pick, but the upcoming draft will be the first one in which the team with the worst record in the previous season doesn’t get the No. 1 selection. The Nationals went 55-107 in 2022 for the league’s worst record, but the inaugural MLB draft lottery on Tuesday night ended with the Pirates (62-100) getting the top pick.
“I’ll live with it. No. 2, we’re going to get a really good player,” Rizzo said. “No. 2 is a high pick, and I’m very comfortable with it. We’re going to get a good, impactful player.”
“I wish [the lottery] would start next year when we didn’t have the worst record in the league,” Rizzo added with a laugh. “But I think it’s exciting. I think it’s a twist, it’s entertaining and I really think it’s going to serve its purpose.”
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.