In six weeks, an important decision will need to be made.
Nike is releasing the Air Jordan 38s, and I want them. I like the look, they seem like they would be a good fit, and I missed out on the John McEnroe Mac Attack sneakers recently, so I’ve got money in the shoe budget.
These shoes are expensive. They’d be a long-term purchase, but there are other options. You can still get the Air Jordan 37s with a similar look for cheaper. They wouldn’t match the shoe that I want. They would just look similar, and would be cheaper. Perhaps if I bought the cheaper pair, I could have the look and an extra $50. That extra money could allow me to buy a cheaper pair of shoes. In this scenario, I don’t have the 38s, but I have a pair of shoes that look similar, and another pair of shoes that I can wear when I’m not wearing the 38-replacements.
But I want the 38s. Not something that looks like the 38s and has the perceived value of being cheaper. I want the 38s.
The only way to get the 38s is to buy the 38s and spend the money.
Otherwise, I’m going to be walking around with the 37s, telling people they’re just like the 38s but cheaper, and it’s all worthwhile because of the mowing shoes I got for free at home.
As a single man, I don’t have to justify my sneaker purchases. I’ll be rocking those Air Jordan 38s by the end of next month. That’s because I see something in them that can’t be replicated with something that looks the same to the general public.
You can probably guess by now that this post has nothing to do with sneakers.
The Money Factor of the MLB Draft
The Pittsburgh Pirates have the most money to spend in the upcoming draft. That’s both based on first round slot money and overall spending. The Pirates are budgeted $16,185,700 to spend. They can go up to 5% over that figure without losing future draft picks. They’ve spent the full amount every year, and almost every year they’ve spent up to the 5%.
The question isn’t whether the Pirates will spend money. It’s how they’ll spend money.
The $9.7 million they have for first round slot would shatter the current bonus record. That went to Spencer Torkelson in 2020, who signed for $8,416,300 — the slot price for first overall at the time. Last year’s number one and number two overall signed in the $8.2 million range.
MLB Pipeline had estimated bonus figures for each player. Dylan Crews and Paul Skenes were both in the $9.2 million. This makes sense, as both are being described as generational draft talents. They would go for a record breaking bonus. In the case of Crews, there are rumblings that he and Scott Boras will go for maximum dollar. Considering Torkelson signed for slot, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Boras attempt to get the full amount. There’s no doubt that Boras will want the top bonus in this draft, at the least.
Jeff Reed made a great point in our recent Roundtable series on the draft. The Pirates could pay Crews $10 million and still have $7 million remaining for the rest of their draft, without losing a future pick. There are six teams in the draft who have less than $7 million for their entire draft. The Pirates could draft Crews or Skenes, then treat the rest of the draft as if they’re in the same post-contending position as the Dodgers ($7.2 million), Astros ($6.7 million), or the Cardinals ($6.375 million).
Of course, if the Pirates take a “signability” pick, and bank some money for the later rounds, they’ll still end up spending it all. They just would spread the talent from one player to many players. Max Clark at the projected $7.8 million, for example, would leave the Pirates with a remaining pool that would still be bigger than 12 teams for their entire drafts.
The problem with this approach is the Pirates have the first and 42nd picks. The Washington Nationals will almost certainly take the remaining of Dylan Crews or Paul Skenes with the second pick. The Tigers pick third, but have the second biggest bonus pool, and pick twice before the Pirates pick their second time. The big concern for over-slot deals from Clark would be the Athletics. They pick fifth overall, then pick two times in three picks before the Pirates go for a second time. The Pirates can take a signability guy, but there’s a risk they won’t have their choices in the second and successive rounds.
The top talents, and the most expensive first rounders, will be Crews and Skenes. There are a few players who could go first overall in a “normal draft year”, but that’s an argument I’m growing to hate.
What is a Normal Draft Year, Anyway?
Baseball America updated their top 500 draft prospects yesterday. They’ve got Crews and Skenes graded as 65/High prospects. This upside is instantly better than anyone in the current Pirates system. At best, Endy Rodriguez, Henry Davis, and others are 60-grade guys. They could be long-term starters in the majors, impact players, and All-Stars on multiple occasions. Crews and Skenes could become stars. The type of players the Pirates could never get without the first overall pick.
Aside from the two LSU talents, there are three players given a 60/High grade. This is more in line with the players currently at the top of the system. If the Pirates took Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford, or prep outfielders Max Clark or Walker Jenkins, there would be debate as to who the top prospect in the system is. The Pirates would get deeper in two ways — adding to their depth at the top, and maximizing their depth of young upside players in the middle ranks of the system. It would be up to the development team to create the top end talent.
What the “normal draft year” talk says is that most drafts are led by a 60/High talent. If you took one of the current 60/High talents, you’d end up with a first rounder in almost every year. The reality is you wouldn’t end up with the best player in this draft. When we’re grading a current draft, it’s irrelevant to compare the talent to other drafts — unless you’re highlighting players who rarely are available in the draft.
These comparisons add perspective to the talent available. For the team picking first, it sounds like choosing between those brand new Air Jordan 38s, and the discounted 37s that are in line with last year’s look.
Of course, these are players we’re talking about, not sneakers. A draft like this presents the idea that there’s a shortcut to stardom sitting at the top. Someone you could draft who might have a sneaker named after him one day. In this draft, there might be a possibility for two players to become a star. How realistic is that for Crews and Skenes? What are the chances for the other three “normal first rounders” to be stars, or even MLB starters? Here are my preferences for the number one overall pick.
Paul Skenes is My Pick
Baseball America Grade: 65/High
MLB Pipeline Bonus Estimate: $9,100,000
The Path to Starting: Skenes throws 98+ consistently, getting up to 103 MPH, and routinely hitting triple-digits. He’s got a plus slider with a lot of tilt break, and a changeup that comes from a crazy split finger grip where he puts two fingers on either side of the ball. At the moment, Skenes is a Major Leaguer. He could enter the majors right now and work in a power relief role. I wouldn’t recommend that, due to innings in 2023. It wouldn’t take much experience for him to get comfortable enough with his stuff to start in the big leagues. He could be in the MLB rotation this time next year, after working through the Altoona and maybe Indianapolis rotations. There’s a risk that you lose him for 1-1.5 years from injury, but that’s a risk with every pitcher. I think people focus on that for a guy like Skenes not because the risk is bigger, but because the potential loss is bigger. This shouldn’t dissuade teams from ever taking an elite pitching prospect — especially one with the mindset and skills that Skenes has.
The Path to Staying: Control is a big concern. There were a lot of chases that Skenes got in college which wouldn’t be offered at in pro ball. He also might have some concerns with the movement of his fastball. If it doesn’t move a lot, and he can’t get chases outside in the majors, then his 98-100+ fastball would not carry the same weight. I’m less concerned by this right now, as Skenes is new to pitching full time. The 2023 season was his first as a full-time pitcher, and he made huge advancements. I don’t actually think there’s a middle ground here. Skenes will make the majors on his stuff, and will either frustrate because he isn’t a star, or he’ll be a star and it will seem like it was always inevitable.
The Path to Stardom: I love the work ethic, the knowledge of the game, and the ability Skenes has displayed to advance his game. I’m not concerned with where his pitches are right now, as he’s already shown the ability to improve them. His fastball went from 93-94 to the current velocities in the last year. His slider changed shape to go from a short-breaking pitch to a pitch with 11 inches of horizontal movement. Skenes worked with LSU’s pitching coach on torso movement, and getting his chest moving in the right way. The improvements have been clear, and the mechanics have been clean. His ability to rapidly adjust his game is a skill that should ease concern about present-day flaws to his game. It should also put him ahead of Crews, who is largely untested here.
Why He’d Make Sense: I’ve covered two Wild Card games where the Pirates had one of the best offenses, led by an MVP-level player, and they got shut down by an elite pitcher. Skenes has the chance to be that elite pitcher with his current stuff and his intangibles giving his current elite stuff a good chance to improve. The Pirates can’t get a starter like this, anywhere. There’s no one in their current system who could develop like this. Skenes right now is the dream scenario for Bubba Chandler this year. Chandler is four months younger than Skenes, and making the move to pitching full-time. The Pirates are hoping Chandler develops into more, but he hasn’t seen anywhere close to the positive development we’ve seen from Skenes in such a short time. The Pirates could dream about developing a guy like Skenes. They’ll never sign one. Thanks to the MLB draft lottery, they lucked out to be in position to be able to draft one. Then, the dream of developing an ace becomes more real.
I Love the Confidence of Dylan Crews, But…
Baseball America Grade: 65/High
MLB Pipeline Bonus Estimate: $9,200,000
The Path to Starting: Unlike Skenes, I don’t see Crews as an MLB player today. He’s been crushing college hitting for three years. This builds a lot of hype, but it needs perspective. Crews was only crushing that level for so long because he was under NCAA control for two additional seasons after having a breakout as a freshman. If you translate his results to pro ball, he would have been stuck at High-A for a few years and there would be some skepticism on his numbers. Still, he’d be a guy who would be entering Double-A with monster results. It wouldn’t take him more than a year to go from there to the big leagues, where his eye and power could carry him in a corner outfield.
The Path to Staying: Watching Crews, he looks effortless in destroying college pitching right now. He will face more of a challenge in pro ball, but his quick bat and advanced eye will get him to the majors. These are the areas where Crews excels, to the point where a pitcher like Skenes has to still throw everything he has at him (by the admission of Skenes in referencing their intrasquad matchups). Crews will make the majors and stay, on the strength of his bat.
The Path to Stardom: There’s a chance that Crews could stick in center field. He’s a plus runner with plus arm strength. His bat and power potential in center field would be a dream — especially with the current long-term flanking of Bryan Reynolds and Henry Davis. If he can hit for power while playing center, he could be one of the league’s impact position players. If he slows down, or if the defensive focus takes away from the bat, it would make more sense to move him to a corner. He’d need to hit a lot more to have 60+ value there. I will point out that I’ve got him graded lower than Skenes with his chances to reach 60+ value. The reason? Crews showed rapid progress to his game as a freshman, but hasn’t really been tested since. Meanwhile, Skenes has been tested and has progressed and adapted at each level. Both will need to do what Skenes did to get to the majors. We assume Crews can do it because he did it from prep ball to LSU as a freshman in spectacular fashion.
Why He’d Make Sense: Crews is safer than a pitcher, in that he could give you consistent production from year to year, night to night, without the same risk of major injury. I think he ends up a similar value to Bryan Reynolds, with a better chance to go higher. That’s not a bad addition to your club. If he can stick in center field, the Pirates have the makings of another “Dream Outfield” with Reynolds and Davis giving them two other big bats. The question as I see it between Skenes and Crews: Do you want the guy who could shut down an opposing lineup for a game, or the guy who gets four chances to prevent that pitcher from doing his job? Crews would make sense for me in any other year. Considering the Pirates current strength, and these guys at the top both being mid-2024 projected arrivals, I still think Skenes is the best option. I also think Skenes has more long-term value as a guy you might be able to extend. But that’s getting way into the future.
Max Clark is the Best Signability Guy
Baseball America Grade: 60/High
MLB Pipeline Bonus Estimate: $7,800,000
The Path to Starting: This isn’t exciting, but I’m going to say that Clark has a safer path to the majors than most prep players, due to his defensive skills in center field. There’s a hope that Dylan Crews can stick in center, and less of a hope for the remaining two outfielders. Clark is one of the fastest in the draft, with an elite arm and plus defensive skills. His hit tool and plate patience are good, with clean mechanics. He does lack power, which means he would need to be a hit/speed/defense center fielder to start. For a prep player, he has a good path to this outcome.
The Path to Staying: The hit/speed profile isn’t a sustainable one. Players slow down as they age. The league adjusts to try and impact a player’s batting average on balls in play. Clark has lowered his hands this year to drive for more power. An adjustment in pro ball to bring out more power — while possibly sacrificing that plate patience he has in excess — could keep him in the big leagues with more forceful contact. It might not be home runs, but Clark doesn’t need as much power with his defense and speed. I also think that by the time Clark is into his prime, we will have a different understanding of the POWER tool.
The Path to Stardom: If you value defense up the middle, Clark already provides a boost in value. His speed adds to that, as does his quick swing and pitch recognition. These skills make him safer than most prep players. I’d say a realistic upside for Clark would be a 50-55 grade starter. He would be someone who wouldn’t carry a team, but you wouldn’t have to replace him. If he can boost his power, while keeping the speed, defense, and hit tool intact, he could be an impact player, into star level. I think this is much lower probability than Skenes or Crews, which is where that extra five points comes in. Clark’s challenge to stay is the same as the challenge for Skenes and Crews to be stars, when you consider the development gap each player has to bridge.
Why He’d Make Sense: Signability. Clark could give the Pirates $1.4 million in savings over the expected bonus totals from the top two guys. Coincidentally, this is the exact savings the Pirates got from Henry Davis compared to the top bonus in the draft that year. Clark would give the Pirates a chance at a 50-55 grade center fielder who could move through the system quicker than most prep players. He’d have a chance for upside beyond that range, and would create the money for at least one additional first round talent in the middle rounds. This choice, and all to follow, would be more about the overall draft, with lower upside at the top.
Wyatt Langford is a Safer Signability Guy
Baseball America Grade: 60/High
MLB Pipeline Bonus Estimate: $8,700,000
The Path to Starting: Langford’s bat, and especially his power potential, will get him to the big leagues. He’s got more power than Crews, along with plus hit and run tools. His raw power is elite, with the ability to go to all fields. He doesn’t have the center field profile, so he would need the bat to carry him. It projects to have that ability, with speed to add some value when he gets on the bases.
The Path to Staying: Langford really seems like the Henry Davis of this draft. He’s a safe college power hitter who could go to a corner spot in the majors after a brief time in the minors, and all that would be needed to keep him around is continued production from the bat.
The Path to Stardom: Langford is actually why I’m lower on Dylan Crews. I think Crews has a better chance to be a center fielder. He could end up the better all-around hitter. I don’t think the bridge between Langford and Crews at the plate is that big, though. To me, Crews is getting a boost from his extensive time at LSU, and his bonus demands from Scott Boras. There’s a chance they both end up 55-60 grade guys in a corner. The difference is that I think this is the ceiling for Langford, while Crews has a chance to go higher.
Why He’d Make Sense: This would be a signability pick with a seemingly safe power bat that you could get to the big leagues. The savings would be about a third of what the Pirates would save with Max Clark. A year from now, the outfield could have Langford and Davis flanking Bryan Reynolds. There’s a lot of offensive potential in that outfield, but the defense might be a concern. If the Pirates are going signability, I’d go Clark due to the center field profile and the maximized savings.
Walker Jenkins is For Another Draft
Baseball America Grade: 60/High
MLB Pipeline Bonus Estimate: $8,000,000
The Path to Starting: His power potential out of high school makes him a first rounder. He profiles as a right fielder with elite power, getting a Josh Hamilton comp from some scouts. He’s graded higher than Clark by Baseball America, and it would be the power bat that would get him to the big leagues as a starter.
The Path to Staying: Development. Once you start taking 18-year-old players, you drop the present day grade down. Skenes would be a present day 40-45 grade pitcher. Crews would be a 30-35 hitter, with a chance to rapidly improve to 45-50 in a year of pro ball. Jenkins might take a few years to get to Crews. He’s pure skill right now, and there are a lot of games and tests between him and the majors.
The Path to Stardom: Jenkins seems like the prep Langford. His power is elite, and he’s shown the ability to improve his running and defensive play. With more improvements, he could be more than just a power guy in the corners. I actually think these two have the lowest odds of getting to that 60-grade or higher, as they have the risk of being one-tool driven guys.
Why He’d Make Sense: Again, savings. Considering this draft class, I don’t think he makes a lot of sense. Langford gives the same chance for a power bat, with a higher floor and less risk involved. Clark gives a chance to boost a barren center field position in the system. In a normal year, Jenkins would give the Pirates a long-term power bat to dream about. In this draft, there are players with more upside, a safer player with his profile, and a long-term option who fits the system needs better.+ posts
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.