When Major League Baseball moved its amateur draft from June to July, it reduced the immediate opportunity for incoming players to get their feet wet as professionals. By the time most players sign and return to game shape, the minor-league season is already approaching the end of the line.
This stretch, here in mid-August, is the sweet spot. More than a month has passed since the draft ended, and about a month remains in the minor-league campaign. As such, we figured this would be a good time, or as close to one as the new calendar offers, to check in on how the top picks are doing.
With that in mind, below you'll find summaries of how the top five picks have performed to date in pro ball (as of Tuesday morning). Do be aware that this is all small-sample theater, and that players are presented in their draft order. At the end, we've also included three other first-round picks who we felt merited mention.
1. Paul Skenes, RHP, Pirates
The Pirates have understandably taken it low and slow with Skenes to date. He not only threw 122 innings with LSU, he cleared the 100-pitch threshold in more than 40% of his appearances -- by far the highest rate among top collegiate draftees. A few scouts who spoke to CBS Sports in the lead-up to the draft expressed the belief he could pitch in the majors this season if Pittsburgh needed him. Given how the Pirates' postseason aspirations have since fallen by the wayside, there's no incentive on their end to rush him along like that.
In his first three professional "starts" (two of which were really one-inning sprints against low-level competition), Skenes has struck out five batters and surrendered one hit. He struck out 48% of the batters he faced in SEC play, so it's fair to think that he won't be tested in any real capacity until he faces Double-A competition, which could be any day now. Oh, and by the way, Skenes averaged 98.8 mph on his four-seamer in his last time out. That power arsenal? Still very much in tow.
Even with this methodical introduction to pro ball, Skenes should remain on schedule to make his big-league debut sometime during the 2024 campaign.
2. Dylan Crews, OF, Nationals
Crews, Skenes' teammate at LSU who was widely held as the best prospect in the class, has spent most of his professional career with the Nationals' Low-A affiliate in the Carolina League. He too has faced little challenge, although that, again, could change after being.
In 15 games entering Tuesday, Crews had hit .385/.446/.677 with five home runs and four other extra-base hits. For posterity's sake, we'll add that he's struck out in a quarter of his trips to the plate, and he's walked just six times. Crews showed he was more than capable of commanding the strike zone and making good rates of contact in SEC play, so we're not particularly concerned.
The Nationals are unlikely to be a factor in next year's playoff picture. That shouldn't prevent Crews from making his big-league debut later in the year.
Clark, the first prepster taken off the board in July, has appeared in 11 complex league games to date. (For those new to the minor-league hierarchy, the complexes are the lowest level -- a step down from even Low-A.) He's hit .273/.373/.546 with two home runs and four stolen bases.
Clark has also recorded an assist defensively, a nod to his arm and his potential above-average glove in center.
Perhaps it needn't be written, but just in case: Clark is at least a few years away from making his big-league debut.
4. Wyatt Langford, OF, Rangers
In a normal year, Langford might've been the No. 1 pick in the draft thanks to his offensive upside. He slid to No. 4 this July, and he's since taken out his frustrations by walloping High-A pitching.
In 17 games to date, Langford has batted .274/.408/.59 with three home runs, nine additional extra-base hits, and more strikeouts (16) than walks (13).
Unlike the Pirates and Nationals, the Rangers should enter next season with serious playoff aspirations. Langford, then, is also a candidate to make his big-league debut sometime during the 2024 campaign.
5. Walker Jenkins, OF, Twins
Jenkins was the last member of the top five to sign a contract. In fact, he didn't put pen to paper until just hours ahead of the deadline.
No. 5 overall pick Walker Jenkins hit his 2nd professional HR last night for the FCL Twins 💣— Twins Player Development (@TwinsPlayerDev) August 16, 2023
He went 2-5 on the day with a HR and 2 runs scored 💥
In 9 professional games, he is slashing .342/.375/.605 with a .980 OPS‼️#MNTwins pic.twitter.com/tUn69gQvDD
That late start, if it can even be described as such, hasn't impacted Jenkins in the slightest. He's since appeared in 13 games at the complex level, slashing .333/.382/.549 with two home runs and four additional extra-base hits. On Tuesday, he was promoted to Single-A Fort Myers and is expected to make his debut there Thursday.
As with Clark, Jenkins will require more developmental time than the collegiates. In other words, get used to seeing his name in Prospect Watch.
Three other first-round picks of note
- Nolan Schanuel, 1B, Angels: Schanuel, picked at No. 11, has already reached the majors. He had hit .327/.471/.455 with a walk-to-strikeout ratio nearing 2.00 in 70 plate appearances in Double-A. The Angels have made a habit of fast-tracking their earliest picks. Schanuel's quick ascent, then, should come as no surprise.
- Matt Shaw, SS, Cubs: Shaw was the 13th pick by way of Maryland. In 15 games at High-A, he's batted .365/.394/.571 with a pair of home runs and five stolen bases.
- Bryce Eldrige, TWP, Giants: We'll conclude with Eldrige, a two-way player the Giants popped at No. 16. He hasn't yet pitched, but in 15 games at the complex he's launched four home runs and posted a .292/.397/.604 slash line. That'll play.