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With the Tigers pitching staff behind him, LSU right fielder Dylan Crews (3) watches the pitch from first base against Air Force, Saturday, February 20, 2021, at Alex Box Stadium on the campus of LSU in Baton Rouge, La.

As Antoine Duplantis approached the gates at Alex Box Stadium on Monday night, he heard Dylan Crews’ walk-out music. Duplantis had arrived late, and before he reached his seat, the crowd yelled.

“Oh,” Duplantis said, “he must've hit a homer.” 

Sure enough, Crews turned on a fastball and belted a solo home run 419 feet to right-center field in the third inning. The ball left his bat at 105.5 mph. Duplantis later watched the replay on his phone.

“Not too many people can do that,” he said.

Crews had already caught the attention of former LSU players like Duplantis, the school record holder for career hits, and the opposite-field home run solidified their belief he can become the next great player in LSU baseball history. After the game, coach Paul Mainieri had a text message from Alex Bregman.

“‘My goodness,” Mainieri recalled the Astros’ All-Star third baseman saying, “‘Crews has power to the opposite gap like that?’”

Four days later, Crews enters No. 11 LSU’s games this weekend against Youngstown State and Nicholls State batting .444 (8 for 18) with four walks, three RBIs and two home runs, establishing himself as the team’s best hitter.

It’s a small sample size, but former LSU players have seen enough through four games to feel excited about the future of someone who arrived as the highest-rated freshman in the country and earned Southeastern Conference freshman of the week honors after his debut.

“These types of players exist,” said Eddy Furniss, one of three LSU baseball players to have his number retired by the school. “They just usually don't exist in college.”

As they watched Crews play opening weekend, former LSU players noticed a freshman who physically resembled a fifth-year senior. Crews, who’s 6-foot and 203 pounds, showed quick hands, bat speed, plate discipline, power and a compact swing, all qualities of successful hitters. He didn’t appear rattled by attention. Perhaps most importantly, he didn’t strike out.

“He didn't go chasing too much,” Duplantis said. “He wasn't trying to knock every single ball out of the ballpark, even though it looks like he's got the power to hit a lot of balls out the ballpark.”

Furniss watched recaps throughout the weekend. A two-time first-team All-American first baseman and the 1998 recipient of the Dick Howser Trophy as the best player in college baseball, he finished his career as the LSU and SEC hits leader, records that stood until 2019. Furniss only saw Crews’ highlights. He didn’t need to see much else.

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“You don't need that big a sample size to see that someone hits the ball hard,” Furniss said.

Crews has consistently hit balls over 100 mph since he arrived on campus, and according to LSU baseball data, he hit five balls at least 100 mph opening weekend, the most on the team.

Even when he didn’t reach base, Crews tended to hit the ball hard. On Wednesday night against UL, he went 1 for 6 and struck out for the first time. He still finished with four of the six hardest-hit balls on the team — 110 mph, 106.3 mph, 105.4 mph and 101.9 mph — showing he made solid contact despite his final stat line.

“He has an efficient swing,” Furniss said. “He has a lot of bat speed. He puts the bat on the middle of the ball at the right angle, and it creates that velocity. He's just got those bat-to-ball skills that we all wish we had.”

That combination of contact and power makes Crews impressive as a college player. Sometimes, hitters can make consistent contact, like Duplantis. Other times, they have impressive power but low averages.

The former LSU players said Crews marries those abilities through a tight, compact swing and opposite-field approach, which helps him make late decisions. Whereas players with long swings have to quickly decide if they’ll bite on a pitch, Crews can wait longer to see how it breaks. 

“He has that ability to stay really, really short to the ball and drive the ball to right-center,” Duplantis said. “That's a quality that's going to help him a lot down the road, that ability to go the other way because he keeps his hands so tight to his body.”

Crews might struggle at some point — everyone does in baseball — but former LSU shortstop Josh Smith, who started as a freshman and batted .346 his junior year, noticed last Sunday that Crews hit his first career home run against a pitcher throwing 97 mph fastballs. He thinks Crews' talent will translate to SEC pitching.

“When you're a hitter like Crews,” Smith said, “you can tell those guys aren't going to swing and miss very much because he has a short swing while still being able to impact the ball.”

Smith attended LSU’s season opener and found himself immediately impressed by Crews. He liked his attitude and poise. Nothing about him resembled a freshman. In the middle of the game, Smith texted his dad, “This Crews kid's going to be one to remember here.”

Since then, Smith’s admiration has grown. He and Duplantis hit and train together every morning at LSU, the former teammates preparing for their second professional baseball seasons, and Smith raved about Crews every day this week. He hopes to meet him.

“I'm excited to watch this kid,” Smith said. “I think he's going to go down as one of the best to come through here.”

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