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Is Paul Skenes The Greatest College Pitcher Ever?

Chris Elwell

Draft picks in Major League Baseball are almost never a guarantee that a star player will soar through an organization and make an impact from the moment they are drafted. Every player has a chance to reach the majors, but with all of the levels of the minors to get through and the quality of talent, most are unable to reach the highest level and prove to be an asset in the big leagues.

Generational talents are hard to come by, especially on the mound. When a pitcher draws comparisons to some of the greatest pitchers to ever get drafted from the collegiate ranks, it is hard to not have lofty expectations of what they could become as a professional. 

LSU right-handed pitcher Paul Skenes had one of the greatest seasons of all time by a collegiate pitcher in 2023, cementing himself as one of the most highly touted pitchers to enter the MLB Draft. Compared to the likes of college pitching greats Mark Prior, Stephen Strasburg, and Gerrit Cole, Skenes could potentially become the first pitcher to go No. 1 overall since Casey Mize in 2018.

Paul Skenes fires 7.2 innings, allowing just two runs and 12 strikeouts in LSU's 6-3 win over Tennessee.
Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

Skenes had a season for the ages in LSU’s seventh national championship in program history, going 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA in 19 starts and striking out an SEC record 209 batters in 122.2 innings. With a blazing fastball that reaches 102 miles per hour and a devastating slider, Skenes possesses a rare pitch mix that displays both power and precision, allowing just 20 walks and leading all of Division l with 15.3 strikeouts per 9.

His dominance in the regular season played a huge role in LSU’s historic run through the College World Series, tallying 15.2 innings in 2 starts, allowing just 7 hits, 2 runs, and 21 strikeouts. With 123 and 120 pitches in each of his respective starts, Skenes helped deliver two huge wins over Tennessee and No. 1 Wake Forest, earning the 2023 CWS Most Outstanding Player award.

Skenes’ level of dominance over the highest level of collegiate baseball has turned him into one of the most fascinating stories in recent history. Only 23 players in MLB history have gone straight from the draft to the majors, an incredibly small group of players out of the over 20,000 that have reached the highest level. Skenes could be the first since Garrett Crochet in 2020 to make an instant impact on an organization coming off his incredible season.

Paul Skenes was given the 2023 CWS Most Outstanding Player Award after LSU's seventh national title in program history.
Photo Courtesy of Twitter/@MLBPipeline

After spending 2 seasons at Air Force, Skenes transferred to LSU in hopes to improve his draft stock to have a professional baseball career before honoring his military service commitment. Coming in as a two-way player, Skenes was looking to sharpen his skills as a pitcher and play for a team that had serious intentions on winning a national championship. 

The draft has not seen a pitcher of Skenes’ pedigree since Cole going first overall to Pittsburgh in 2011, who also holds the first selection in this year’s draft. 

If selected first, Skenes could potentially slot right into the rotation and give the Pirates some much needed depth in the rotation. Pittsburgh has exceeded expectations in the early months of the 2023 season but have lacked quality innings from their starters. With the 17th best ERA for starting pitchers, Pittsburgh’s rotation has turned the corner after struggling mightily in recent seasons, finishing no higher than fourth in the NL Central since 2016. 

Since trading Cole to Houston before the 2018 season, Pittsburgh has not had a top of the rotation arm that could match opposing teams’ best arms and pitch into the later innings. Skenes proved to be an elite big-game pitcher at LSU and could make an impact on a big-league club in a playoff push. He registered at least 6 innings pitched in all but two of his starts in 2023 and tallied 10 or more strikeouts in 14 of 19 starts.

Pittsburgh's struggles on the mound have been well-documented in recent seasons, giving them the No. 1 pick in the draft for the second time in 3 years.
Photo Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In a draft loaded with talent, Skenes would be the consensus number one selection any other year. There is an increased chance that he could, after recent reports came out that his LSU teammate Dylan Crews is seeking a record-breaking $10 million signing bonus. When Pittsburgh held the first pick in the 2021 draft, they ended up selecting catcher Henry Davis for $1.9 million under the designated slot value.

Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford and high school outfielders Walker Jenkins and Max Clark are projected to round out the top 5 picks. 

The level of talent projected to go in the first round makes this a highly anticipated draft that could potentially turn into All-Star caliber players in the field and on the mound. In a draft loaded with a mix of high-upside arms and high school bats, there could be a number of players to enter MLB’s top 100 prospects list upon selection.

Skenes possesses the highest ceiling of any pitcher in this draft, and with his consistent ability to locate all of his pitches in the strike zone gives him one of the highest floors as well. His unprecedented ability to limit contact with a 5.3 H/9 and 0.5 HR/9 in 2023 should see him skyrocket into a major league bullpen this season and possibly even the rotation.

The draft will take place on July 9 in Seattle, Washington, as a collective of the 2023 MLB All-Star Game on July 11. Skenes will likely be the first pitcher off the board and potentially the first name called, as a team will be getting a workhorse that is all but ready to make an impact at the big-league level.

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