Spring Training is less than a week away, with pitchers and catchers reporting on February 14th. And as they have done for the past 20 years, MLB Pipeline released its Top 100 Prospects list and Top 10 at each position. Unsurprisingly, Outfielders Dylan Crews and James Wood both made the Top 100 list (both in the Top 15!) and the Top 10 Outfielders list, but exactly where they are ranked is questionable, to say the least. To better understand the reasoning behind their placements on the list, we need to take a closer look at the future of the Nationals' young outfielders.
Taken by the Nationals with the second overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, Dylan Crews looks to be as advertised. After slashing .426/.567/.713, having a K/BB ratio of 46/71, and winning the Golden Spikes Award during his senior season at LSU, Crews made his way all the way to Double-A Harrisburg in his first professional season, where he would also finish out his campaign. Throughout is short stint in the Minor Leagues in 2023, Crews slashed .292/.377/.467 with 5 home runs and 4 stolen bases in 35 games. It is hard to determine whether the drop off in performance can be attributed to fatigue from playing all Spring and Summer for LSU or to struggling to adjust to higher-level opposition, but it is likely the former. This could be why he dropped below fellow 2023 draftee Wyatt Langford, who was drafted 4th overall by the Texas Rangers, in the MLB Pipeline rankings. Langford slashed .373/.498/.784 for Florida in his senior year, stats that, while very impressive, still fell short of Crews' numbers. But where Langford really separated himself was when he made his way all the way up to Triple-A in the Rangers' farm system on the back of his power numbers with a slashline of .360/.480/.677, 10 home runs, and 12 stolen bases. In the Pipeline Outfield rankings, Langford is ranked 3rd and Crews is ranked 4th (they are 6th and 7th in overall rankings, respectively), so there Is not necessarily a big gap between them (Jackson Chourio of the Brewers and Evan Carter of the Rangers are above them, and rightfully so). Is there anything to take issue with regarding Crews' ranking? No. He is still extremely talented and has the potential to be a perennial all-star. Pipeline projects him to be in the majors this season, so hopefully we will see him at Nationals Park sometime in 2024.
Acquired from the San Diego Padres in the Juan Soto blockbuster deal in August 2022, James Wood has moved quickly through the Nationals' farm system. After ending his 2022 season in Low-A Fredericksburg, Wood started the 2023 season in High-A Wilmington before being promoted to Double-A Harrisburg, where he would finish the season. Wood led all Nationals' minor leaguers in home runs with 26 while slashing .262/.353/.520 before being named the Nationals' Minor League Hitter of the Year. While his high K% is concerning (33.7% at Double-A), Wood is seen as one of the top prospects in the entire league. Considering this, it does not make sense that he is ranked behind both Max Clark (3rd overall pick in 2023 to the Detroit Tigers) and Walker Jenkins (5th overall pick in 2023 to the Minnesota Twins) in the MLB Pipeline rankings, both of which are prep bats that, like Wood, did not see any collegiate competition. Clark struggled mightily when he reached Low-A ball, putting up a putrid slashline of .154/.353/.179, although it was just an 11 game sample size. Jenkins faired quite a bit better, slashing .362/.417/.571 in his short stints in Rookie and Low-A ball. Wood (7th ranked Outfielder, 14th overall) being ranked behind Jenkins (5th Outfielder, 10 overall) is not outlandish, but being ranked behind Clark (6th Outfielder, 13 overall) is ridiculous, especially considering we have a large sample size of Wood's overall impressive performances in the Minor Leagues. Clark couldn't hit the broad side of a barn in Low-A, yet he's ranked higher than Wood.
Perhaps MLB Pipeline is taking recent history into account with the Nationals overall inability to develop prospects, but the numbers do not lie with James Wood, who has been much more good than bad in the Minor Leagues. It does not make much sense, but it also does not change the fact that James Wood is a superstar in the making and a major component on the Nationals' future. Both he and Crews deserve more respect in the rankings.