Best bets for the 2023 MLB Draft

July 4, 2023 09:50 PM

Best bets for the 2023 MLB Draft

After an exciting regular season that led to a dramatic NCAA tournament and turned into an even more exciting time in Omaha, college baseball has nudged itself into a small section of the sports betting hierarchy. 

We're not talking NFL or college football status, but the College World Series merited enough interest to draw a record average of 3.5 million viewers for ESPN’s coverage of the final game—LSU’s 18-4 drumming of Florida.  

If there are competitive games readily available to consume, sports bettors will follow. With all those eyeballs on college baseball, the national books are looking to keep the momentum going by offering some odds for Sunday’s MLB Draft. The menu at DraftKings is minuscule compared to what they do for the NFL and NBA Drafts. Nonetheless, it is a good opportunity for those looking to continue their college baseball handicap and action. 

Let’s take a look at some of the MLB Draft betting options.

Odds for the No.1 pick 

(as of July 4, check DraftKings Sportsbook for latest odds)

Paul Skenes -175

Dylan Crews +175

Wyatt Langford +800

Max Clark +800

DraftKings is basically indicating this is a two-horse race with a couple of longshot options since the other choices past 8-1 are priced at 80-1 and higher.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the top position and must decide between one LSU stud pitcher (Skenes), one LSU stud hitter (Crews), a smooth Florida outfielder (Langford) and the most heralded high school prospect (Clark). 

From both a baseball and betting standpoint, Skenes is the best choice. For those backing the big RHP to go first overall, look at BetMGM since that comes with a -130 price. Even though Skenes is a minus favorite, he is far from guaranteed to go first. Crews has some steam on his side. Still, I am going with the books here and backing Skenes to go No.1. 

Just like when it comes to handicapping any draft, bettors must first survey influential media accounts, both nationally and locally. After doing this, there is almost an equal amount of projections for either Skenes or Crews to go first. 

One source, Perfect Game, even has Clark going first. In a way, this projection by Perfect Game adds some value for both Skenes and Crews since there might be some other motives behind it. Clark is the face of its marketing materials. 

Those banking on Crews are doing it based on his amazing season for the Tigers and the trend of teams taking offensive players first in the draft. The last four No.1 picks (and seven of the last eight) were hitters. Teams value cumulative WAR with their draft choices, and that certainly favors an offensive player over a pitcher. 

The last RHP to go No.1 was Auburn's Casey Mize for Detroit in 2018. He is still a work in progress. Mark Appel went to the Astros No.1 in 2013. He washed out, but before that, it was Gerrit Cole from UCLA. Cole is a good comp to the 6-6 Skenes, who the Pirates wisely selected in 2011.  LHP Brady Aiken went to Houston in 2014. Contract issues and health problems derailed his would-be MLB career.

As good as Crews is and should be, it still makes more sense for Pittsburgh to select Skenes. Going with a pitcher might even save Pittsburgh a little bonus money from the start. Pittsburgh GM Ben Cherington didn’t shy away from taking pitchers with high picks when he served in the same position for Boston from 2011-15. 

Skenes, the former catcher and two-way star at Air Force who just worked from the mound in Baton Rouge, has been called the best college pitcher since Stephen Strasburg. After his masterful performance this past year, Skenes should be able to make an immediate impact for Pittsburgh in a matter of weeks. 

He would make a great combination with catcher Henry Davis, the first pick in the 2021 draft that the Pirates recently called up. That's a good storyline brewing for the Pirates front office that is in desperate need of more talent and ways to generate fan interest. 

This goes into the handicap as well. The Pirates surprisingly find themselves in this year’s playoff hunt. 

But since Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh, it won’t add any big-name pieces near the trade deadline like the Dodgers, Phillies, or Giants might. Skenes could be that key August addition after a brief get-to-know-you session in the minors.

Even though Crews also over-performed in the SEC, his trip to the majors should be a little longer than it would be for Skenes. In this case, the Pirates should be thinking short-term as well. 

As a bettor, it is difficult to bypass the option of Crews here with his plus odds. However, I think the books have it correct based on what Skenes can do for Pittsburgh on and off the field from Day One. To put this wager into perspective, taking Skenes at BetMGM is similar to the price of backing the Braves at Cleveland. 

Still unsure about betting Skenes or Crews No.1? Then look over at FanDuel. Both are offered at a plus price. 

Chase Davis Over 20.5 draft position (-135) 

Another similarly priced play to consider. On most draft boards, the athletic Arizona outfielder is listed as the 20-21st best draft prospect, so it is priced accordingly. Consider the Over here since there are a number of outfielders that are projected to go higher. That means teams picking in the teens have more options for pitchers, catchers and high school infielders. That would move Davis, a junior who has some leverage in his contract demands, further down. 

Look at the teams picking near 21: Milwaukee at 18 has leaned on infielders with recent top choices, and they should have a number of good options to choose from; the Rays at 19 favor high school talent; the Blue Jays at 20 don’t have a second-round pick so Davis would make sense, but Toronto has prioritized pitchers with recent first-round picks.

I am willing to sweat these picks for Davis over 20.5 and hope some surprises come before. 

Brock Wilken Over 26.5 draft position (-120) 

The power-hitting Wake Forest third baseman might be overpriced here based on his brand name recognition after the Demon Deacons' tremendous regular season. 

Wilken had just one home run in Omaha and didn’t look like the same threat as he did at his power-friendly home park in Winston-Salem. 

There are plenty of power-hitting corner infielder options on the board, so there is a chance Wilken’s draft position isn’t representative of his reputation. 

First to be Drafted: Kyle Teel vs. Jacob Wilson (Teel -210) 

I would prefer to focus on longshots that hit. That needs to come somewhere else, as this is a heavy bet still worth taking with value in mind, especially since there isn’t much time before the wager is settled. Teel, the Virginia catcher, should be the first player of that valued position taken, likely in the top ten. Wilson, the talented shortstop from Grand Canyon whose father Jack is a former big league player, profiles well but not at the same level of an uber-elite level catcher out of the ACC. 

First to be Drafted: Max Clark vs. Walker Jenkins (Jenkins +110)

This is a plus bet to contemplate because most of the mock drafts I found and deem credible have Jenkins going fourth or fifth overall in front of Clark. In this battle of high school stars, Clark might be overvalued because of the Perfect Game hype and his name being floated around as a possible pick by the Pirates at No.1. 

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