OMAHA – The primary objective fans of the LSU Tigers who made the trip to Omaha is to root their team to triumph in the 2023 Men's College World Series. Somewhere behind besting Florida in the final and claiming the seventh national title in school history is observing the forthcoming professional fates of the team's two best players, center fielder Dylan Crews and ace right-hander Paul Skenes.
Thanks their skills and potential for success at the highest level of the sport, Crews and Skenes on July 9 have the chance to become the first teammates ever to be selected with the top two picks of the MLB Draft. The general expectation – as laid out in Mike Axisa's latest mock draft – is that the Pirates will tab Crews with the top overall pick, and then Skenes will go No. 2 overall to the Nationals. While it's of course possible things don't unfold in that manner, it would be quite surprising if Crews or Skenes slipped out of the top two.
We've had some close calls before. In 2011, UCLA teammates Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer with first and third overall, and in 1978 Bob Horner and Hubie Brooks of Arizona State also went No. 1 and No. 3, respectively. Clemson in 1996 notched a first and fourth pick with Kris Benson and Billy Koch. Let it also be noted that Thomas Jefferson High School in 1982 accounted for No. 1 overall pick Shawon Dunston (Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn) and No. 3 pick Jimmy Jones (Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas). No, not the same school, but please appreciate what was sprawling reach of Thomas Jefferson High School baseball in the early 1980s. The point stands: No one has done what LSU probably soon will.
Before the start of Game 1 of the best-of-three MWCS final on Saturday ---- CBS Sports probed beyond the most obvious rooting interests of LSU fans and asked them this: If you were empowered to determine the No. 1 overall pick of this draft, would you take Crews or Skenes?
"My cousins and I have had this debate numerous times over some beers, you know," said Andrew DeMoss, a lifelong LSU fan and four-time MCWS attendee. "If it were me, I'd take Skenes. Pitching is dominant. A pitcher totally changes the game. We saw it with Skenes the other night. I hope Crews wins the Golden Spikes. I love him, but if it's the pick I'm taking Skenes."
"Crews for sure," LSU rooter Harley Enochson told CBS Sports. "Pure hitter, great on defense, just a complete player. I'd go with Crews. He'll last longer than Skenes, I think."
Patrick Lostaglia and his son Christian – LSU fans, both – were in agreement. "Crews all the way, baby," Patrick said. "I just like him. He brings energy, he's got a stick that can win us the game. That's who I'd rather have on my team."
"Crews," said Christian. "He can do it on both sides of the ball."
Robbie Compton: "Skenes. He throws 100 miles per hour, and he's going to get better. He's only 21 years old, and he's incredible."
Luke Cranford: "Man, it's a tough decision. On the one hand, Crews can play every day, but there's only so many pitchers like Paul Skenes who have ever come along. He's only been focused solely on pitching for one year, and he's already broken the SEC strikeout record. You can pass that up. I'm going Skenes."
You'll note at this point, the tally is tied – three votes for Crews and three votes for Skenes. So to break the tie it fell to LSU partisan Rusty Arledge. "I think I have to take Crews because Crews is a day-in-day-out player where Skenes is going to be a rotation guy, so you'll probably get more out of Crews," Arledge said over some fairly deafening "L-S-U" chants outside Charles Schwab Field. "But both of them are deserving."
As the tight margins suggest, you can make a case for either one. Crews has tremendous offensive upside, in terms of both power and his faculty to hit for average. Crews also figures to stick in center field, at least for the early years of his big-league career. As one seasoned scout recently told our R.J. Anderson, Crews looks like the most obvious top pick since Bryce Harper in 2010.
As for Skenes, he added lots of fastball velocity after transferring from Air Force to LSU prior to this season, and he often registers triple digits. LSU fan Cranford implied above that Skenes had been subjected to divided attentions before this season. Indeed, in two seasons at Air Force Skenes logged more than 400 plate appearances as a hitter, some of which came while he was manning the catcher position. It's fair to expect that a sole emphasis on his development as a moundsman could reveal an even higher ceiling.
However those first two picks play out, they figure to occasion MLB draft history and a memorable moment for Crews and Skenes. That also goes for the LSU fans who, according to this modest polling sample, are sharply divided on the matter of which Tiger should have his name called first.