Oh, Tigers, we must repeat:
You might have hit it big last December on baseball’s new version of the roulette wheel, the MLB Lottery.
In a bit of good fortune seemingly rare in recent Detroit pro sports annals, the Tigers ended up not picking sixth in July’s 2023 MLB Draft — the first-ever MLB Lottery — which Detroit’s sixth-worst record from 2022 normally would have dictated.
No, they got a break that can’t be over-emphasized, particularly as the 2023 MLB Draft crop’s gaudiest gold pieces shake out as a trio, with any of the three looking good enough to perhaps end up as first-overall talent — this year or any other.
Dylan Crews, Paul Skenes, Wyatt Langford.
They look as much as any three players could look heading into April as three intractable super-picks for, in draft order, the Pirates, Nationals and Tigers, when the Draft gets rolling on July 9.
Crews, center fielder, Louisiana State: This isn’t sandlot stuff Crews is amassing for the LSU Tigers. The man is batting .531, in 23 games, and last weekend against Arkansas, a truly good SEC team, Crews was 8-for-13, with a home run in each game.
Digest, if possible, that .531 batting average. Now factor in the accompanying numbers: .658 on-base percentage, and a .988 slugging percentage.
He is a baseball portrait in disbelief.
And, so, the Pirates we have to believe are planning on Crews becoming something approaching — approaching — a deity named Roberto Clemente. That’s how good Crews has been.
Moving along …
Skenes, right-handed starter, LSU: Thunder and lightning awe us. This man likewise appears to be a dynamic force of nature. Friday night at Ole Miss, Skenes threw three pitches at 101 mph. He threw 105 total pitches in seven innings, rationing a pair of hits, walking three, striking out 12.
Scouts and analytics wizards, as well as the biomechanics bright lights, are looking at Skenes and his 6-foot-6, 240-pound parcel for any sign that he can’t be trusted as a Top-3 pick, given the skittishness with which pitchers these days are viewed.
Nothing thus far disclosed or suspected has scared anyone away, which means, should Skenes keep up this mayhem, he probably doesn’t get past the Nationals at No. 2, which would, theoretically, allow the Tigers to snag Langford.
Langford, outfielder, University of Florida: He got hit by a pitch in the groin on March 11 and was forecasted, no surprise, to miss up to six weeks after he had testicular surgery.
He made it back in two weeks.
He was designated hitter for a pair of games Saturday against Ole Miss, then played left field Sunday.
And, clearly, after his layoff, Langford is breaking in a bit gently.
He had a rare pair of 0-fers, but also had two hits, including a home run. He walked three times, as well. Langford is headed for an embracing big-league home come July, and very possibly, it could be Detroit.
Given that it’s a bit early to trust such forecasts, it’s right to acknowledge that people can, and do, get hurt. Also, that people down the rankings list can catch fire and displace celebrities now ahead of them.
But, this is a rare bunch, the dazzling trinity of superstars flaunted now by LSU and by the Gators.
The Tigers look as if they can’t lose. Considering that they won, of sorts, in last December’s lottery, they’ll hold that thought.
Detroit News ranking of the top 10 amateur baseball talents as they currently sit leading into the 2023 MLB Draft, set for July 9-11.
▶ 1. Dylan Crews, Louisiana State University, outfielder, 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, right-handed batter: Hitting a well-thrown baseball is the most difficult task in sports. Unless, of course, you’re Dylan Crews in the spring of 2023. Crews is batting .531 in 23 games, with a 1.645 OPS. He’s essentially doubling numbers mere mortal college baseball players would be happy to accrue. Last week’s ranking: 1
▶ 2. Paul Skenes, RH starter, LSU, 6-6, 240: Oh, my. This is a man so hot and so devastating, he might displace Crews as the draft board’s lead dog. Just an astonishing fusillade of power pitches. Last week’s ranking: 2
▶ 3. Wyatt Langford, OF, University of Florida, 6-1, .225, RH batter: Good news for the Gators, and for all of baseball, that Langford made it back so rapidly. Scouts like him as a corner outfielder rather than a center-field option. The bat is heavy caliber. Last week’s ranking: 2
▶ 4. Walker Jenkins, CF, 6-3, 205, South Brunswick High, Oak Island, South Carolina High, LH batter: Still early to be getting into prep stars’ recesses, but talent on Jenkins’ level should do nothing but rise. He could be overridden by his prep cohort, Max Clark, but expect Jenkins to hang within Top-5 range throughout spring. Last week’s ranking: 4
▶ 5. Jacob Wilson, shortstop, Grand Canyon University, 6-3, 190, RH batter: He had a marvelous Saturday-Sunday against Sam Houston State: 8-for-11, with a homer and two doubles. The scouts yet need to decide if Wilson’s inventory holds up against really good pitching. The Western Conference isn’t to be confused with the SEC. Last week’s ranking: 5
▶ 6. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, University of Mississippi, 6-2, 200, LH batter: Nothing indictable about Gonzalez a month into the college calendar. It’s simply that he’s been underwhelming compared with the early season’s Big Boys. Had a light weekend against Florida: 3-for-13, including a pair of doubles. Last week’s ranking: 6
▶ 7. Hurston Waldrep, RH starter, University of Florida, 6-1, 205: A bit like Gonzalez in that he pitches steady, with flashes of Top 10 stuff. But, he isn’t in that upper sphere and doesn’t look like he’ll crack it. Saturday against Ole Miss: five innings, five earned runs, three walks, nine punch-outs, 93 pitches. It’s a bit like, ‘What have you done for us lately, Hurston?’ Last week’s ranking: 7
▶ 8. Rhett Lowder, RH starter, Wake Forest, 6-2, 200: Again, the ACC is good, very good, but it’s not SEC-grade — not this year. Lowder nonetheless is a Friday-night pitcher with definitive ace material, as he proved again last week against the University of Miami, which is no pauper: seven innings, three hits, zero walks, nine whiffs, 92 pitches. He could climb a notch or two before Wake Forest’s season shuts down. Last week’s ranking: 8
▶ 9. Max Clark, OF, Franklin (Indiana) Community High School, 6-1, 190, LH batter: Still too early to get a bead on whether Clark will become 2023’s best prep thoroughbred, beating Jenkins on the scouts’ preferred list. A month from now, the picture will be clearer. But this young man has skills on a radiant level. Last week’s ranking: 9
▶ 10. Kyle Teel, C, University of Virginia, 6-1, 190, LH batter: No complaints about Teel’s weekend against Florida State: 5-for-10 in Virginia’s first two games against the Seminoles before he tuckered out Sunday with an 0-for-3 and two strikeouts. With no catcher’s lighting up this spring’s talent show, Keel has an edge. Last week’s ranking: 10
Knocking at the door
▶ Chase Dollander, RH starter, University of Tennessee, 6-2, 210: Dollander was back on firm footing Friday against Texas A&M, so it’s possible he’s headed back to top-10 heights if his slider has perked up. Against the Aggies, he worked 6.2 innings, allowed three hits and three quick runs, then got back to being Dollander. He finished with a pair of walks and eight strikeouts
▶ Brayden Taylor, 3B, Texas Christian, 6-1, 175, LH batter: Nice weekend against Kansas (4-for-9, with a homer, double and four walks). Also fanned three times Friday against Kansas’ ace.
▶ Colin Houck, SS, Parkview High, Lilburn, Georgia, 6-2, 193, RH batter: He’s doing just fine (.432 in 15 games) against the typical mix of Georgia prep talent.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.