Dylan Crews leaned forward, scooped a ball rolling through the outfield grass inside Alex Box Stadium, transferred it to his right hand and reared back to throw. The ball shot from his hand as Nicholls State sophomore Wes Toups ran toward third base.
Crews’ throw beat Toups to the bag. LSU infielder Jordan Thompson grabbed the ball and swiped his glove at Toups, preventing Nicholls from putting runners on the corners with nobody out in the first inning March 3. Soon, freshman pitcher Javen Coleman ended the frame unscathed in a game LSU won 5-4.
“Had he not done that,” coach Paul Mainieri said, “chances are the other team’s going to score. It changes the whole complexion of the game.”
Crews repeated the throw in almost the same situation — first inning, one out, runner trying to take third base — a few days later against Oral Roberts, proving the freshman outfielder can do a lot more than hit, and he’s batting .389 with five home runs entering this weekend’s series against UTSA.
“You very rarely get that five-tool player in college,” Mainieri said.
When Mainieri evaluates outfielders, he looks at the arm last. He wants someone who can hit, run and again, hit.
“Did I say I wanted a guy that can hit?” Mainieri said, laughing. “OK, let’s say a guy that can hit for some power. And then I look at the arm last.”
Mainieri prioritizes hitting, because an outfielder’s ability to throw out runners rarely factors into the outcome of a 56-game college baseball season. It’s also hard to land those players on campus. But as Crews has demonstrated twice already this season, the skill makes a difference when someone has it.
“He definitely has some practice with that throw,” senior pitcher Devin Fontenot said. “It almost looks like a pitcher long tossing but throwing it as hard as you possibly can.”
Fontenot and his teammates are beginning to wonder if opponents will keep testing Crews, or if at some point, they will halt at second base, taking a more cautious approach instead of running into an out.
“Hopefully a couple guys try testing it even more,” Thompson said, “and he'll keep throwing them out.”
The throws amaze Mainieri, who has coached college baseball for 39 years.
“I can never remember, in all of my years of coaching, having a right fielder with that caliber of an arm,” Mainieri said, “It’s never been that important to me to recruit a guy. So now, all of a sudden, we’ve got a guy. I feel like it’s just lagniappe for me.”
“Might have to rethink my evaluation of the tools.”