Dylan Crews is one of the most hyped MLB Draft prospects in a few years, but if and when the Pittsburgh Pirates select him, will they sign him for a record setting signing bonus?
One of the most hyped prospects in amateur history will be in this year's draft: Louisiana State University outfielder Dylan Crews. To say that Crews has obliterated the ball so far this season would be an understatement. With the Pittsburgh Pirates having the number one pick and Crews being far and away the best player currently projected to go in the draft, will the highly touted outfielder break the all-time signing bonus record?
Let's first take a look at the current all-time signing bonus record holder, Adley Rutschman. Rutschman signed for $8.1 million out of Oregon State University. In his last two seasons at college, Rutschman batted over .400 with an OPS well over 1.300. Between his sophomore and junior seasons, the switch-hitting backstop slashed .409/.537/.681. 22.5% walk rate and a strike out rate of just 13.6%.
Not only was Rutschman considered a guy with a sky-high offensive ceiling, but he also went into the 2019 draft with Gold Glove potential. The only area in which Rutschman lacked was speed, but as a catcher who saw a few games at first base, speed wasn't a necessity for him. Even then, Rutschman, who was an American League Rookie of the Year finalist in 2022, clocked in with a slightly above-average sprint speed (27.2 feet-per-second compared to the league average rate of 27.0 FPS).
Crews' numbers haven't been as good throughout his college career, but don't sell him short. He's still batted .370/.480/.701 through 699 plate appearances and counting. That includes a 14.8% walk rate and 16.3% strikeout rate. Crews has hit for more power than Rutschman did in college, already hitting over 45 home runs and on pace to reach the 50 mark eventually. He also has an ISO of .331, compared to Rutschman's .272 mark in 2018-2019. Plus keep in mind that Crews is in the SEC and Rutschman played in the PAC 12.
Crews 2023 campaign has been nothing short of exemplary. The outfielder only had 75 plate appearances, but he has batted .519/.652/.926 with five home runs. He has double the amount of walks (18) to strikeouts (9). His slugging percentage alone is higher than 36 players' OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in the SEC conference with a minimum of 50 plate appearances.
Defensively, he's shown to have average to above average skill in center field. He also has a plus arm, and many project him to move to an outfield corner eventually. In terms of raw power, he easily scales out at the very top of the 20-80 scale, something he has the edge over Rutschman in. Crews isn't the fastest player in the draft, but he still grades out as an above-average runner. He has stolen 19 bases in 26 attempts throughout college and definitely has the speed to swipe a dozen in a season.
Both Rutschman and Crews are very well-rounded players. Crews has a higher offensive ceiling than Rutschman did when he was drafted. But Rutschman was considered one of the best defensive backstops in the 2019 draft. On top of all that, Rutschman is a switch-hitter. But Crews still has defensive value, and even if he has to move to right field, he wouldn't lose a ton of value.
So if the Pirates drafted Crews, would they sign him for a record-setting amount? Before you go to typing in the comments that the Pirates are cheap and they'd never do that, remember that the Pirates previously set the all-time draft signing bonus record before the Orioles and Rutschman in 2011. That was with Gerrit Cole, who signed for $8 million. They also still hold the second-round signing bonus record for Josh Bell at $5 million, as well as the 9th round signing bonus record for Clay Holmes at $1.2 million.
Plus, there's no such thing as saving money in the draft. Teams all have allotted money they can spend, and all teams go over their given value. The Pirates also signed Termarr Johnson last year for just over $7.2 million, slightly over slot and the most a fourth overall pick has ever been given by a margin over $200,000 (the next highest was Brendan McKay by another low-budget team, the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017). If there's one thing the Pirates don't cheap out on, it's the draft.
The defensive edge at a premium position for Rutschman may just be enough to keep him as the all-time record holder. It's not like Crews is miles ahead of Rutschman in terms of offensive ceiling during their junior seasons, either. Crews might have to move to right field long term, which could very slightly negatively affect his overall draft stock, especially when you compare him to a guy who was a Gold Glove catcher through and through. Rutschman also had the benefit of being a switch-hitter.
Even if Crews doesn't break Rutschman's $8.1 million signing bonus, he should come damn close to breaking it. Although I am not optimistic that Crews will break Rutschman's record, there's still a chance in my opinion. But I definitely think there's a good chance the Pirates offer him the highest signing bonus in their franchise's history and at least surpasses Gerrit Cole in that regard.