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Dylan Crews already feels he belongs at his first Nats spring training

Dylan Crews already feels he belongs at his first Nats spring training

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Midway through the Washington Nationals’ first day of full-squad workouts Tuesday, Dylan Crews walked past a few dozen autograph-seeking fans, kept his vision straight ahead and politely promised them he would sign after practice.

About 20 paces later, he angled around a fence to field flyballs and take his first on-field reps of live batting practice. It took just one swing for Crews, the top prospect in the Nationals’ farm system, to send a pitch from Cole Henry over the right field wall for an opposite-field home run. Before he even stepped to the plate, though, Crews fielded the same query, this time from a dad and his two young daughters. In a quieter moment, he signed their ball.

Once Crews was out of earshot, the dad turned to his daughters.

“That’s the best player we’ve got. That’s the best prospect in baseball,” he said before pointing at the signature. “And we got him right here on this baseball.”

The real Dylan Crews — the living, breathing outfielder who turns 22 next Monday and introduced himself to his first major league camp with a hushed smile — arrived at the Nationals’ spring training facility in silence Sunday morning, unloaded four bats into the top shelf of his locker and appeared to do everything he could to hush the neon-colored, headbanging, dream-inducing frenzy that the idea of Dylan Crews had manifested.

“Super excited. Ready to get going here,” he said. “I feel like I belong in this locker room right now.”

He wasn’t arrogant. Just quiet and assured.

In his first three days at camp, it has been clear that the idea of Crews is, well, much louder than the real thing. The idea was plucked from LSU with the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft and given the second-largest signing bonus in MLB draft history. The idea, Baseball America’s No. 6 overall prospect, had a locker at the front entryway of the clubhouse. Next in line? A handful of the team’s other highly acclaimed prospects, with James Wood (No. 11 per BA), Robert Hassell III and Brady House (No. 55) to his left. The idea had a care package from Scott Boras’s agency waiting for him; the box hardly would have stood out in the clubhouse if not for the fact that it was about 50 percent larger than any gift any other player received.

None of the hoopla has seemed to rock Crews. On his first day, he leaned back in his black folding chair, sipped from a cup of Dunkin’ and allowed clubhouse dynamics to marinate. He mostly kept to himself unless a teammate approached him, in which case he returned the favor with a quiet smile and a brief conversation that curled his mustache upward.

By Tuesday, his first day out in the open outside of the batting cages, he had slipped into his element, chatting away with his fellow prospects. When asked for his closest compatriot at camp, he pointed to Wood. “This tall guy right here,” he said. He warmed up with outfielder Lane Thomas and took his pointers during flyball drills.

“Coming from a school like LSU, it almost gets you ready for the moments like this,” Crews said. “Playing in front of 10,000 people every day, that’s the most realistic [opportunity] you’ll get and the easiest transition you’ll get coming into a big new locker room like this or a packed-out stadium like you’ll do in the big leagues.”

Manager Dave Martinez has identified that poise, too. He called Crews a sponge. He said Crews had a sense of leadership and will have opportunities to play in spring training. Martinez wanted him to fit in. He didn’t have an estimate for Crews’s big league debut, but he was optimistic.

“He’s going to help us,” Martinez said. “I don’t know when. It could be sooner than later. But he’s definitely going to help us — and help us win a lot of games here.”

For Martinez and General Manager Mike Rizzo, Crews’s summer of 2023 provided quite the springboard. Before the draft, the Florida native helped LSU to the national championship. In 14 games at low Class A Fredericksburg, he slugged five home runs and hit .355. He worked out with fellow LSU draft picks in the offseason and had a handful of weeks to get some sleep, fish and tweak his diet.

It wasn’t perfect: At the end of his 11-month stretch of baseball, he hit .208 in 20 games at Class AA Harrisburg. He called that time more mentally taxing than physically so. But he enjoyed the experience all the same. He has enjoyed his first days at camp, too. Seeing the fans was “really cool.”

And a hidden highlight of big league camp?

“That brisket. That was probably the best brisket I’ve ever had,” he said at the end of his first day.

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