2023 MLB draft rankings: LSU’s Dylan Crews, Tennessee’s Chase Dollander lead Top 30 as college season begins
The regular college baseball season starts on Friday. In keeping with tradition, that means it’s time for us here at CBS Sports to celebrate by recklessly assessing the upcoming MLB draft class.
Below you will find our pre-season list of the top 30 players. (We will also be releasing rating updates closer to the July draft when pirates pick first.) The order of players is based on a combination of where we expect them to be picked and how we view their comparative true talent level. Keep in mind that balancing these components is more of an art than a science, which means you have to mentally apply a margin of error to each rating.
Our list was formed after talking to MLB scouts, analysts and player development types. There is also a fair amount of first-hand observation and personal bias here, as well as statistical analysis and research into historical trends and draft results. This list will probably not be similar to the list published elsewhere. This is fine.
We advise you to consider these rankings, especially the pre-season list, as a snapshot. Players improve, injuries happen, situations change. Some players will drop out of the list, others will jump into it. That’s how these things go. We know we’re wrong about the large number of these players and ratings; we just do our best with the information we have.
Now that all the chatter is out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
1. Dylan Crews, OF, LSU
📺 SECN+ pic.twitter.com/pPQ70B9qI4
— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) March 11, 2022
Crews are the ultimate rough cut of the pandemic era. Had the world not shut down in March 2020, shutting down his senior high school season in the process, he would have had time to recover from a slow start to the year. In turn, he would have been selected highly enough to justify signing a contract to launch his career. But the world did shut down in March 2020, and over the summer, Crews decided to take his name off the draft and go to LSU. Since then, he’s blown up college pitching, hitting .356/.458/.677 slash lines with 40 home runs in 125 games. Some raters who spoke to CBS Sports gave him 70-point predictions for both his hitting and power tools, indicating his All-Star potential at bats. Moreover, there is an opinion that he could start his career in the center of the field, even if his defense was never considered bourgeois. The combination inspired one veteran scout to declare Crews the most obvious number one pick behind Bryce Harper. Others are more open to the possibility that someone else (ahem, Chase Dollander) will overtake him for pole position by the summer. In any case, it would take another natural disaster for Crews to fall out of the top three.
2. Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee
11 km Chase Dollander.
Fastball was 95-97 mph, T98 mph. ⛽️🔥 pic.twitter.com/E3NCPZQYz5
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 20, 2022
Dollander joined the Volunteers before last season through South Georgia. This turned out to be a wise decision as he went on to fight for the top pick afterwards, intimidating good hitters with his elite arsenal. He struck out 108 batters in 79 innings, including 52 of 43 frames against SEC opponents. Dollander’s fastball hits the 90s, but his best serves are his devastating smashers: the curve he uses to change eye level and the slider he pairs well with the aforementioned heat. It’s worth noting that Dollander’s fastball didn’t miss as many bats as speed suggests. One veteran scout suggested that his lack of whiff could be blamed on Tennessee’s penchant for throwing in the zone; another said collegiate hitters were probably sitting on the heater, knowing it gave them the best chance of making contact. In any case, the more pressing issue here is his limited track record. Dollander didn’t throw even 120 innings in his college career. For the record, Kumar Roker threw more than he did in his last season at Vanderbilt. If Dollander can compile a full roster of starts, it seems clear that he will be the first pitcher (and possibly even the first player) to be drafted in July.
3. Wyatt Langford, CF, Florida
Since 1990, the Gators have had five players selected in the top 10. They should add at least one more to that number in July. Langford is the complete offensive package. He commands the zone; he confidently hits the ball; and he makes contact with an above-average clip (his strike-to-exit ratio in the SEC game was 1.28). Scouts are predicting Langford to be at least a plus hitter relative to his batting average and his scoring, and if chops on base were considered a tool, he too would be a plus. Defensively, he played left field last year out of respect for a pair of top 70 picks in Sterlin Thompson (now from the Rockies) and Jad Fabian (Orioles). One experienced estimator calculated that Langford had a chance to flip a coin to make midfield his own for a long time; if said coin falls in the wrong direction, he has a right hand. Langford will almost certainly be in the top five, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he finds himself in the running for the top pick, depending on financial requirements and how the Pirates want to split their bonus pool.
4. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Mississippi
One of the tricks teams use when evaluating SEC hitters like Gonzalez is to isolate their conference performance from their overall lineup. The thought goes that if a player can prove himself against the best talent college has to offer, then he will do well in pro ball. Gonzalez, predictably, did well when he faced his peers in the conference—so good that his OPS was higher against SEC pitchers (.974) than against everyone else. Factor in how scouts think he will remain playable in the shortstop even if he never rises to Gold Glove status and you have the makings of a top 5 that could move up to the top 3 depending on how he plays spring. outside.
5. Max Clark, CF, Franklin Community HS (IN)
Clarke is a potential five-tool player (in the “above average” sense, not in the “all elite” sense) who can bat at the top of the squad at the same time while playing in midfield. On the plate, Clarke has very fast hands and a lot of contact without expanding his strike zone often. There is controversy over how powerful his game will be. Currently, slugging is not his profession, and he does not have the kind of physique that would indicate that he will gain muscle mass as he matures. (Of course, this still leaves the door open to swing and/or philosophical change.) Fortunately, Clark’s other tools are more reliable – his speed and arm strength are well above average, which should allow him to thrive in midfield. – and give him a wide seat, even if he becomes a hitter from break to break. He is devoted to Vanderbilt, but is unlikely to ever wear black and gold.
6. Walker Jenkins, OF, South Brunswick, South Carolina
If you don’t know, this is a great draft for top-notch outfielders. Jenkins has the misfortune, if you can call him that, that he is considered the least known of the big four. He’s still a good prospect who should get off the board somewhere within the first five to ten picks, but he has a few things that work against him that other outfielders don’t: he broke his hamate last summer and he seems to be more likely to slip into a corner. (He’s right-handed, so don’t worry too much.) To Jenkins’ credit, he’s got a good left backswing and plus-plus raw juice, and scouts expect him to grow into an above-average hitter in a big fight. -League level. He has an outstanding commitment to the University of North Carolina, but he won’t need it.
7. Hurston Waldrep, RHP, Florida
Hurston Waldrep, Wicked Breaking Balls (FB T98 mph) 🤢 pic.twitter.com/dRqUEJaA6q
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 7, 2022
Last season, the highest strikeout percentage among qualified collegiate starters was held by Cooper Hyerpa, the feared Oregon left-hander with the 22nd pick in the draft. Waldrep was the second-highest K tally, hitting out nearly 37 percent of the batters he faced in South Mississippi. He has since been transferred to Florida where he can admire the Tom Petty tree and face stiffer competition than what the Conference USA could offer. So Tree’s name is fictitious, but what about the SEC? It is legal. How Waldrep performs on a higher difficulty level will determine whether he will challenge John Burke and AJ Park for the title of the best Gators pitcher since 1990. (Burke and Pak were selected sixth). a chance to unlock a room on top of the world. His fastball is from the mid-90s, and his slider could be the hallmark of the next level. He will need to prove that he has the team (his pitch is reminiscent of Jack Leiter except for the over-the-top release point) and the means to properly deploy these proposals against SEC rosters. If Waldrep succeeds on these fronts, he will confirm this admittedly aggressive rating.
8. Arjun Nimmala, SS, Strawberry Crest HS (Florida)
Here’s one for the dreamers, the poets, the statistical models in the crowd. Nimmala is a walking helium tank. He is a smooth shortstop whose glove earns plus picks from scouts. He also shows promise at the plate, including impressive bat speed. Multiply those loud instruments by his extreme youth (he’ll turn 18 only a few months after being drafted) and you’ll have the right conditions for him to raise his preference lists as spring turns into summer. Nimmala needs…