Image credit: Paul Skenes (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Louisiana State has had seven players drafted among the top 10 overall. Three of those seven have been pitchers—and all three of those pitchers have something in common.
All three raced to the major leagues by the end of their second pro seasons.
LSU has a good chance to go 4-for-4 in that regard. Righthander Paul Skenes is the top pitcher in the country this year—he trails only teammate Dylan Crews on our ranking of draft prospects—and is a strong bet to be selected in the top handful of picks.
The 6-foot-6 Skenes has size, stuff and pedigree to succeed in MLB. He owns a pair of 70-grade pitches. He led the nation in strikeouts. He is a three-time first-team All-American.
In that regard, Skenes is reminiscent of Ben McDonald, the No. 1 overall pick in 1989 and the highest drafted player in LSU history. McDonald was a 6-foot-7 workhorse righthander with dominant stuff and a track record with Team USA. McDonald showcased his athleticism by also playing on the LSU basketball team; Skenes showed his by serving as a two-way player for Air Force in 2021 and 2022.
LSU rose to prominence in the 1990s, winning the College World Series five times between 1991 and 2000. McDonald was key to establishing the program’s dominance in the years preceding that championship run. He helped lead the Tigers to Omaha in 1987 and 1989 for just the second and third times in program history.
So when the Orioles drafted McDonald first overall in 1989, they were expecting him to be big league ready quickly. They were right. McDonald made his MLB debut that September and pitched in six games as a reliever.
Heading into 1990, McDonald ranked No. 2 on the very first BA Top 100 Prospects ranking, and when he recovered from a spring training injury he moved right into the Baltimore rotation. He spent seven seasons with the Orioles, recording a 3.89 ERA (111 ERA+) in 937 innings. He finished his career with nearly 21 WAR, placing him among the top half of all No. 1 overall picks.
The next LSU ace to be drafted top 10 overall was righthander Kevin Gausman in 2012, again by the Orioles. Gausman made his MLB debut the following May but ran up a 7.66 ERA in five starts and finished the season in the bullpen.
Gausman’s time in Baltimore continued to be rocky before he settled in as a front-of-the-rotation starter for the Giants in 2020 and earned a large contract with the Blue Jays in 2022.
Aaron Nola found more instant big league success than either McDonald or Gausman. Drafted seventh overall out of LSU by the Phillies in 2014, Nola made his MLB debut on July 21, 2015. He has been a rotation fixture in Philadelphia ever since.
Nola has three top 10 finishes in NL Cy Young Award voting—with a peak of third place in 2018—and started Game 1 of the 2022 World Series. Just three pitchers have more WAR since 2016, Nola’s first full season in the rotation. His career total of nearly 31 WAR already ranks top 10 in the 141-year history of the Phillies franchise.
This year, Skenes appears to be next in the line of LSU aces to rocket to the major leagues and make his mark.