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Looking at Detroit’s first round options in the 2023 MLB draft

There are many good options, but which one is right for the Tigers?

Syndication: Gator Sports Cyndi Chambers / USA TODAY NETWORK

The 2023 MLB draft is just under two months away, and with both college baseball and high school baseball winding down, what better time to look at the Detroit Tigers’ best options with the third overall pick than now?

Things are going to change over the next few months, but the top five or six picks should all come from the same group of elite players that have led the talent pool all season long.

Two of the three most popular mock drafts — Baseball America and MLB Pipeline —currently project the Tigers to go after a high school bat, but Prospects Live is still pairing up Detroit and University of Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford.

Let’s take a look at the players Detroit is likely looking at heading into draft season with the third overall selection.

OF Dylan Crews, LSU

If you watch any bit of college baseball or dabble in the draft every year, you likely know Dylan Crews’ name. He’s been the top player in the class for over a year now, and his .457/.607/.790 slash line this season has been otherworldly.

There is no debate here. If Crews somehow falls to the third pick, Scott Harris makes the selection immediately. He’s a 70-grade hitter with good pop given how much contact he makes, and he could take over center field down the line for Detroit. Money is always the question with 1:1 guys, but Crew is worth it. If Pittsburgh doesn’t pull the trigger, Washington almost certainly will.

RHP Paul Skenes, LSU

Yes, the Louisiana State Tigers are very good at baseball. LSU features the best bat and arm in college baseball, and both should come off the board before anyone else. Skenes’ fastball sits in the upper-90s and flirts with triple-digits regularly. His slider and changeup are both plus pitches that have some projecting him as a top-of-the-rotation arm.

MLB Pipeline believes that Skenes’ rapid ascension to brilliance might scare some teams off. He was good at Air Force before transferring, but not 139 strikeouts in 72 23 innings good. Certain clubs in the top five might be weary of Skenes regressing in the pros, but Washington seems like a perfect fit at the No. 2 spot. They’ve spent money on MLB-ready arms in the past, and Skenes might fit that mold.

If Skenes happens to fall to No. 3, I say Detroit passes on him. While not immediately in evidence, the Tigers still have plenty of young pitching that’s developing or getting healthy, and the lineup could use another bat or two for the future. Maybe I’m off base here, though? Would adding a potential No. 1 or No. 2 arm through the draft be a good idea? Let us know in the comments.

Here a few recent reports on him.

OF Wyatt Langford, Florida

Full disclosure, I also write for a site that covers the Florida Gators, so it makes sense for me to think that Wyatt Langford is Detroit’s best option with the third overall pick in the draft. But this isn’t just the UF homer in me talking. In any other year, Langford would be the top bat in the class. It just so happens that Dylan Crews exists.

A groin injury that took him out for two weeks hurt his numbers a bit, but Langford is still slashing .397/.539/.781 with 12 home runs and 31 runs batted in.

Here’s what makes Langford so enticing, though. He’s a 70-grade contact guy with the potential for plus-power (26 home runs tied a UF record in 2022) and runs as well as any converted catcher you’ve ever seen. That’s right, Langford played catcher at Florida his freshman year. Well... he really just sat on the bench and got four at-bats, but he was listed as a catcher that first year.

Moving to left field last year was a gamble, but his speed makes up for his instincts, or lack thereof, at the position. That gamble paid off and Langford might even be able to play center field at the big league level, at least as well as Crews. He’s been stuck behind two outstanding center fielders at Florida, but Detroit could try him out and move Riley Greene to left.

Langford is moldable into whatever the team needs him to be, and his bat will always play.

Perhaps the most important thing about Langford is that he’s a 1:1 talent that will likely be available at No. 3 because Crews and Skenes exist. The top of this draft class is absolutely loaded, and any of these three options is a good choice. Prospects Live likes Langford to Detroit, and so do I.

OF Max Clark, Franklin Community HS

Vanderbilt commit Max Clark has been at the top of the 2023 high school class for a long time. Scouts believe he can be the next superstar in the sport, and his floor is high enough to take a gamble with the No. 4 pick without too many concerns.

For a prep bat, Clark shows all the signs of being a five-tool player in the big leagues. His power is undeniable at the high school level, and he might be a better centerfield prospect than either Crews or Langford. Clark’s season is still going because he plays in Indiana, but he’s shown enough already to make him my top high school prospect.

The thing is, Detroit probably doesn’t need to draft a center fielder for four years down the road. They did that in 2019 with Riley Greene, and college bats fit the Tigers’ timeline much better. Both draft experts at MLB Pipeline think Detroit should go with one of the high school bats, but there’s always some risk in taking an 18-year-old with a top-three pick.

OF Walker Jenkins, South Brunswick HS

The other high school outfielder projected to go in the top-5 right now is Walker Jenkins, a UNC commit that plays high school ball in Oak Island, North Carolina. Brunswick might be a centerfielder, but his arm is certainly strong enough for right.

Jenkins’ bat might be better than Clark’s when he’s at the top of his game, but he’s a little slower and dealt with a hand injury at one point that affected his grip strength.

If Detroit is going with a high school bat, it should probably take the true centerfielder (Clark) instead of adding another corner outfielder with power (Jenkins). Still, some experts are considering it a toss-up, so the Tigers can’t really go wrong here.

Part of the reason the 2023 draft will be particularly interesting for the Tigers, is the fact that they have all new people running it. Beyond Scott Harris running the show, they now have former Tampa Bay Rays scouting director, Rob Metzler, as VP of scouting, and Mark Conner, most recently the San Diego Padres’ scouting director, now holding that role in the Tigers’ front office.

Still, the club really needs a good draft. The Tigers farm system thinned out pretty quickly over the last year, and we’d like to believe they won’t be picking in the top six too often going forward. This is a chance to kickstart things a bit on the farm.

Things could change before July 17th but right now it’s pretty hard to imagine the Tigers taking someone other than the five discussed. If they’re open to taking an advanced, near major league ready pitcher, than Skenes is in the picture. If they’re set on a bat, one of Crews, Langford, or Clark seems bound to be the pick. Perhaps an under slot deal with someone else is an outside possibility, but for now don’t expect any fancy footwork with the bonus pool until their competitive balance pick A (37th) and second round (45th) selections.