Image credit: Paul Skenes (Photo By John Korduner For The Washington Post Via Getty Images)
Over the last three seasons, 6-foot-6 righthanded pitcher Paul Skenes has ascended up draft boards and has established himself as a likely top-five overall selection this July. He is arguably the best college pitcher in the last decade-plus, and is a one-of-a-kind talent. Skenes’ journey is fascinating, and one that started at Air Force. Coming out of high school, Skenes received some draft interest and was expected to contribute right away for the Falcons. There was buzz surrounding Skenes after his freshman fall both due to his performance and the fact that he would be a key contributor on both sides of the baseball. He wound up enjoying a sensational freshman year in which he had a 2.70 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 26.2 innings on the mound, while also hitting .410 average with 21 doubles and 11 home runs. In what is now a remarkably full circle moment, Skenes’ first-ever appearance came at his future home: Alex Box Stadium. In his inning of work he struck out two hitters and sealed a 6-5 upset win for Air Force. However, he did give up a run and it came by way of a Dylan Crews solo home run—the first of his career.
Following his excellent freshman campaign that earned him numerous All-American honors, a Mountain West freshman of the year award and an invitation to Team USA’s Collegiate National Team, Skenes made the jump from late-inning reliever to Friday night starter. While such a sizable increase in one’s workload might be a struggle for some, Skenes more than rose to the occasion. In 15 starts, he pitched his way to a 2.73 ERA with 96 strikeouts across 85.2 innings pitched. Not only did Skenes continue his success on the mound, but he also did so at the plate—he hit an impressive .313 with 10 doubles and 13 home runs. He was again named a first-team All-American and invited to pitch for Team USA’s Collegiate National Team.
In a decision that was incredibly difficult to make, Skenes decided to enter the transfer portal and would eventually wind up at LSU. Skenes had a productive fall season in which he made great strides with his stuff and tightened up his command. While many were expecting Skenes to have an outstanding junior season and establish himself as a day one draft pick, what soon followed was something very few people saw coming. The imposing righthander turned in quality start after quality start, running his fastball up to 103 mph while flashing two double-plus secondary offerings in his slider and changeup. He was recently named SEC pitcher of the year and national pitcher of the year and could be the first LSU player to take home the Golden Spikes award since Ben McDonald did so in 1989.
Saturday night was a culmination of an exceptional collegiate career for Skenes. He dazzled on college baseball’s biggest stage, holding a potent Tennessee offense to two runs across 7.2 innings while notching 12 strikeouts. His premium stuff was on full display with his fastball sitting in the 97-102 mph range for the entirety of his 123-pitch outing. Both his changeup and slider profiled as double-plus offerings with each getting its fair share of swing-and-miss. After his 12 strikeouts, Skenes now sits at 200 strikeouts on the season and is the first pitcher to reach that mark since Trevor Bauer did so in 2011. On the season, Skenes is 12-2 with 200 strikeouts and a minuscule 19 walks across 114.2 innings pitched.
While it is becoming almost impossible to put what Skenes is doing into words, Jay Johnson last night perhaps summed it up best: “I certainly don’t take these outings for granted. But that’s about the 16th one that we’ve seen like that—remarkable.”