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The 2023 Major League Baseball Draft was loaded with talent and superstar personalities, including Paul Skenes and Dylan Crews. While few draftees get a heavy dose of playing time the year they are drafted, most play professional ball at some level. Among the top draft picks, Skenes is the only player that didn't get legitimate playing time. While playing time this early doesn't typically mean a lot going forward, fans can still get excited when their guys perform well early. So, how did the top picks progress in their limited playing time? Let's take a quick look at the top five picks.
Paul Skenes and LSU teammate Dylan Crews burst onto the scene in 2023, dominating the SEC for the eventual national champion Tigers. A right-handed transfer from Air Force after winning the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year and being named a first-team All-American, Skenes broke an SEC record by striking out 209 batters in 2023. The campaign earned him the first overall selection in the 2023 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and a record-breaking $9.2 million signing bonus. He debuted as the third-ranked prospect in the league and the top-ranked pitching prospect.
After a heavy workload at LSU, he pitched just 6.2 innings professionally in 2023. He made two appearances at Single-A Bradenton, pitching three scoreless innings and striking out four batters before a promotion to Double-A Altoona, where he struggled a bit, giving up four runs in 2.2 innings but striking out five in the process. The Pirates put him on the development list following his Double-A debut. As he looks to 2024, he will be on the baseball betting favorite to be the first 2023 draftee to make his Major League debut.
Despite this, there are still question marks with Skenes — he wasn't a slam-dunk pick to be taken with the first selection. And having struggled in limited Double-A action, fans still haven't seen much from him. 2024 will be a crucial year for the 21-year-old, who has just one season of experience being a pitcher.
While his teammate Skenes was getting all the national headlines, Crews had already established himself as one of the best prospects in college baseball. The three-year LSU Tiger left the college ranks with a career 1.187 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) and 58 home runs, and many experts predicted it would be Crews, not Skenes, drafted first by the Pirates.
Instead, he had to settle for the second overall pick, taken by the Washington Nationals and signing a $9 million signing bonus. Unlike Skenes, Crews got a legitimate cup of professional baseball coffee, playing in 35 games between the rookie, Single-A, and Double-A levels. In 15 games at the Rookie and Single-A level, he hit five homers and hit .384 before his promotion to Double-A Harrisburg. He struggled a bit there, hitting just .208 with a .595 OPS, failing to hit a homer.
Despite the struggles, his future is bright. Many scouts regard him as a better prospect than Skenes, who was once considered the most likely player to be taken with the first pick. He is a near Major League-ready player thanks to a bat that can play anywhere on the field. While the power might take time to develop, he should hit for a high average and walk a lot, making him a candidate to be a .400 on-base percentage player. He could see the majors in 2024, depending on the Nationals outlook. With the current collective bargaining agreement, it could make sense to keep Crew in the minors, at least until September.
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The first high school player off the board, Max Clark played his high school ball at Franklin Community High School in Franklin, Indiana. As a sophomore, he won the Indiana Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year for his efforts as a pitcher and outfielder. After hitting .646 with six homers and 45 runs scored his senior, he again won the Indiana Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year before the Tigers drafted him third overall. A Vanderbilt commit, Clark opted to sign with Detroit for $7.7 million.
He made his professional debut that same year, splitting time between the Tigers Rookie ball club and Single-A Lakeland. In 23 games across both levels, the lefty outfielder hit just .224 but walked 21 times to bump his on-base percentage (OBP) up to .383. Clark is a potential five-tool player who could quickly move up the ranks despite being a prep player.
Clark has a higher floor thanks to his elite speed, which should make him a tremendous center fielder. His discipline at the plate also makes him a high-floor batter, even if on-field power never develops. He has superstar potential, but as with any prep player, it's hard to know if he will tap into that.
Another SEC product, Wyatt Langford, attended Trenton High School in Trenton, Florida, before committing to play baseball for his hometown University of Florida. As a sophomore, he hit .356 with 26 home runs, tied for the most ever in a single season by a Gators player. He entered 2023 established as a top MLB prospect before hitting .373 with 21 homers and finishing the year as a Golden Spike Award semifinalist. He was a unanimous First-Team All-American and led the Gators to the College World Series finals, losing to Skenes and Crews' LSU Tigers.
He left school and got drafted by the Texas Rangers with the fourth overall selection. The 2022 Rangers lost 94 games, opening up the opportunity to take a player of Langford's caliber before winning 90 games and eventually the World Series. More than most players taken this high in the draft, Langford to Texas is an example of the rich getting richer. Unlike the players drafted above him, Langford hit the ground running, starting in rookie ball and making it to Triple-A Round Rock. Across 44 games at those levels, Langford hit .360 with 10 homers, finishing the season with a 1.157 OPS.
His early success isn't shocking to most, as he might have entered the draft as the most Major League-ready player available. Like Clark, he is a great runner and could stick in center field. More importantly, he has a significant power upside, and his plate discipline will also make him a high OBP guy. Some believed that Langford should have been taken even higher in this draft, thanks to his physical tools.
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Born in Wilmington, North Carolina, Walter Jenkins attended South Brunswick High School, where he was named the North Carolina Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year as a junior. He entered his senior year as a top MLB draft prospect and a North Carolina Tar Heels commit. The Twins selected Jenkins fifth overall and signed him at an above-slot rate, giving the outfielder a $7.14 million signing bonus.
Jenkins started at Rookie ball before getting elevated to Single-A Fort Myers. Similar to Langford, the returns on Jenkins came early. He hit .362 with a .989 OPS across 26 games, hitting three homers, walking nine times, and stealing six bases in an impressive first campaign. His strikeout numbers were a bit high, but there was a lot to like from the 18-year-old, who will be 19 by the time the season rolls around.
It is rare for a prep player to find success at the professional level — as Jenkins did — immediately. He was three years younger than the average player in Single-A, and he posted a 1.054 OPS at that level. The potential from Jenkins is obviously there. Some scouts viewed him as the best player available. However, there is a level of risk in drafting a prep player this high, especially a prep outfielder. Further, he didn't face great competition at the high school level, so teams didn't see the results. That said, his early returns at the professional level are proving the scouts right, and he could quickly become a superstar in this league.
While this is impossible to know, we can be sure that Clark and Jenkins will not be the first players to make the Major League level as prep players. The odds may have favored Skenes after the draft because pitchers typically make the jump quicker, but his lack of playing time in 2023 hurt those chances.
As noted earlier, many scouts regarded Crews as the better prospect, and his high offensive floor makes him an easy candidate to break into the Major Leagues quickly. Langford's quick success puts him in a similar camp as a college hitter who was already more Major League ready than his high school peers. A 2023 draftee will likely play at the Major League level in 2024. However, it's hard to tell which one it will be at this point.
Chris Sloan is a former baseball league commissioner and travel baseball coach who has made significant contributions to the sport. In 2018, he founded selectbaseballteams.com, a website that helps parents find youth and travel baseball teams in their local areas. Since its launch, the website has experienced impressive growth, offering a wealth of resources including teams, news, tournaments, and organizations. Chris's unwavering passion for baseball and his innovative approach to connecting parents with quality baseball programs have earned him a respected reputation in the baseball community, solidifying his legacy as a leading figure in the world of youth and travel baseball.
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