Pittsburgh Pirates Weighing Risk of Selecting a Pitcher No. 1

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On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Pirates will pick first in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft. The consensus is that they are going to choose one of two Louisiana State Tigers, outfielder Dylan Crews, the top hitting prospect in the draft, or Paul Skenes, the top pitching prospect in the draft.

BetUS.com thinks the pick will be Skenes. He is paying +165 to be the first overall selection in the draft, while Crews is second on the odds board at +250.

Skenes struck out a whopping 48% of the batters he faced in SEC play this season, and he was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player. In 15.2 innings in the CWS, he allowed just seven hits and two runs and struck out 21. On college baseball’s biggest stage, he was its brightest star.

But the history of pitchers taken with the top overall pick is checkered at best. It’s why only once in the last eight drafts has a pitcher gone No. 1 overall. That was Casey Mize in 2018, drafted by the Tigers. He made it to the majors by 2020, but to date, he has just seven big league wins, and he’s currently rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery.

Prior to Mize, you have to go back to Brady Aiken in 2014, drafted by the Houston Astros. Houston discovered inflammation in his elbow prior to signing him and reduced their offer. He refused to sign, and went back into the draft for 2015, getting taken by Cleveland at 17th overall. He never made it to the majors and has been out of baseball since 2021.

The Case for Paul Skenes

Skenes has an elite arm, and he would be tough to pass up. And while recent history suggests that a pitcher at No. 1 might be too much risk for the potential reward, there certainly are plenty of success stories.

David Price was selected No. 1 overall by Tampa Bay in 2007, and he made it to five All-Star Games and won the Cy Young Award in 2012. Two years later, the Nationals took Stephen Strasburg with the first pick, and he became a World Series MVP. And the Pirates themselves know that a No. 1 overall pitcher can work out, as it did when they took Gerrit Cole in 2011. He’s been an All-Star in Pittsburgh and Houston, and he’s making his third appearance with the Yankees at this year’s All-Star Game.

Health is the biggest scare. Elite batters don’t usually go down with serious elbow injuries. But Skenes threw 120 pitches in his CWS semifinal performance against Wake Forest. Most observers feel at 6-foot-6, 235 lbs, he has the frame and the arm strength to withstand the rigors of a full professional baseball season.

Skenes began his college career at the Air Force Academy, where he also played first base and catcher, which underscores his athleticism and durability. As the best pitching prospect since Strasburg in 2009, if the Pirates don’t take him at No. 1, Washington is a cinch to grab him at No. 2.

The Case for Dylan Crews

It’s not just that Crews is a safer pick than Skenes because of his position. He’s a dynamic player who also starred for LSU at the College World Series. He won the Golden Spikes Award as the country’s top amateur player with a .567 on-base percentage, a .426 batting average, and reached base in all 71 games he played in 2023.

The Golden Spikes Award carries more than a little gravitas when making the transition to the Major Leagues. Six of the previous 44 award winners have won baseball’s Rookie of the Year Award, three have been league MVPs, and three have won the Cy Young Award.

In 2020, as a high school senior, Crews was projected to go in the late first round. Now that he has played three seasons with LSU and collected 286 hits and 58 home runs, he’s going to be selected with the first or second overall pick.

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