But even the second pick in the draft, a national champion at LSU who won everything there is to win as an amateur, only has one chance to make a first impression. On teammates. On fans. On opponents. On staff.
So, Jake Lowery, you’re Crews’s first full-time pro manager with the Fredericksburg Nationals. You have had him for all of two weeks. Your thoughts?
“The word that comes to mind,” Lowery said, “is ‘ballplayer.’”
There’s a lot of wraparound-shades, locks-cascading-from-the-cap-just-so that ooze from that assessment. But it’s not just style. It’s a nod to the completeness already apparent in Crews’s game.
“He’s just got that big league feel,” said shortstop Marcus Brown, a fifth-round pick this year.
“I think his gift is making it look easy,” said hitting coach Delwyn Young.
“He’s the most even-keeled, relaxed, mellowed-out person I’ve ever met,” said infielder Gavin Dugas, Crews’s roommate both at LSU and in Fredericksburg. “But don’t get me wrong. There’s a competitive edge there.”
“He’s ready to go,” Lowery said. “It’s just kind of like that demeanor of like: ‘Nothing’s going to faze me.’”
If you have been pleasantly distracted by the major league Nationals’ recent run of competence — going 27-20 since late June heading into a weekend series with Philadelphia — keep in mind that there are fewer players who could help a future contender already in the big leagues than there are on the way. Crews, emphatically and electrically, heads the list of those still to come. In his first 12 professional games — one at rookie-ball in Florida, the past 11 in the low Class A Carolina League — Crews has hit .348 with four homers and 18 RBI and a 1.077 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
“The game doesn’t change,” Crews said.
Maybe not for him. Back to those first impressions. Randy Knorr has been a member of Nationals’ major and minor league coaching staffs since the team arrived from Montreal in 2005. He currently serves as the club’s catching coordinator, a role in which he sees all levels of the team’s system. That brought him to West Palm Beach, Fla., in late July, when Crews arrived for his first workouts as a pro.
“He took BP, and it was impressive,” Knorr said. “But BP’s BP. So we had a ‘sim’ game.”
The first foes for Crews in this “simulated game” were a pair of injured, rehabbing major leaguers, Tanner Rainey and Carl Edwards Jr., followed by recent draft pick Jared Simpson, a lefty.
“He gets up against Rainey, takes a couple pitches — whack, he hits a ball off the wall, left-center,” Knorr said.
Just like that, against a big leaguer?
“It’s not over,” Knorr continued. “Then Edwards comes in. He shoots him down the freaking line for a double. And Simpson comes in, and he one-hops him off the wall in right-center, another double.”
Three swings, two against big leaguers, three doubles to all parts of the park. Knorr turned to Bobby Henley, another forever coach for the Nationals.
“Well,” he said, “I guess he’s pretty good.”
Pretty good? Listen, baseball is a slow burn, and anecdotes don’t make a player. But be honest in this assessment: If Crews were to be called up to the majors tomorrow — he won’t be, he won’t be, but if — which current National would obviously be a more complete, advanced player than him? CJ Abrams has won the National League player of the week and has solidified his position as the shortstop of the future. Keibert Ruiz has shown surprising power in becoming one of the best offensive catchers in the second half of the season. Josiah Gray has already pitched in an All-Star Game, and MacKenzie Gore has shown flashes of a future ace.
Crews is more advanced than them all. Right now.
“I’m just out here trying to put on a show with the guys,” Crews said.
He is the show, and the guys are following along. Think about the fact that he is two years older than Bryce Harper or Juan Soto when they made their debuts. He could be ready — quickly.
Deep breaths. For now, this Fredericksburg team is chock-full of choices from the most recent draft. So many of them are college players from major conferences — third baseman Yohandy Morales from Miami, outfielder Andrew Pinckney from Alabama, Brown from Oklahoma State, players with similar pedigrees and experiences.
But as it pertains to Crews, only Dugas has a first impression that goes back as far and runs as deep. So as Crews’s current — and still new — teammates draw their first impressions of Crews, Dugas can fill in the gaps. In one rookie league game down at the West Palm complex, and then again in Crews’s first couple of games here, Crews took a called strike, then turned away from the plate and grimaced.
“You’re like, ‘Wow, he looked really unhappy with that strike call,’” Brown said. “And then you look at it [on video], and the ump missed it. He just knows the zone.”
This is impressive — and important — to those getting used to Crews. “One of his superpowers is controlling the zone,” said Young, the hitting coach. “And baseball works from there.”
For Dugas, this is more of the same. “We had a saying at school,” Dugas said. “Every time he would maybe get a called third strike on him, we would yell at the umpire, ‘He knows the strike zone better than you do!’ And he did.”
This goes back to Lowery’s initial thought: From his spot in center field, Crews routinely hits the cutoff man. He goes from first to third on a single. He takes good leads. At 21, not a month into being a pro, he displays all the traits of a ballplayer. Among those who know, that’s the highest compliment.
“It’s not that he knows what the pitcher’s going to throw,” Lowery said. “But he’ll know that, ‘There’s a base open, so I’m going to sit on this 3-1 slider, and if it’s not there, I’m going to take it.’ So he’ll take his walks, but he’s got a knack for hitting the ball hard and using the whole field.”
You don’t get to manage a kid like this very often. Let him keep going.
“He likes the ball away, but he can also turn on an inside pitch and hit a pull-side homer,” Lowery said. “His right-center power is elite. He’s a top-of-the-order kind of ballplayer.”
These are the impressions of those just getting to know him. It’s fleeting. Crews is in Fredericksburg now, but he’ll be promoted before too long — maybe immediately. High A Wilmington to finish the season? Class AA Harrisburg to start next year? Who knows?
“Whatever happens, happens,” Crews said. “That’s obviously up to them. I’m just here to have a great time with the guys. I’m having a blast. But if I was to move up, then I’m still going to play the same game.”
His same game plays at basically any level. Who knows what Dylan Crews’s ultimate impact will be on the Washington Nationals’ franchise? Whatever happens in the future, he’s creating an impact right now. And that impact is: Holy cow!