The MLB draft is right around the corner, and the Nationals own the 2nd pick. For Washington that means adding an additional top prospect to their already stacked farm system (five top 100 prospects). A decision like this is not for the faint of heart. General managers have had their careers ruined by bungling such a selection. That’s a lot of pressure for selecting the most promising 20 something year old (sometimes teenager). As of now, the two prospects at the top of each draft board hail from LSU: OF Dylan Crews and Pitcher Paul Skenes. Unfortunately for the Nationals, they’re at the mercy of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the owner of this year’s first pick. However, if all things go Washington’s way, Paul Skenes will end up in D.C.
Skenes has spent the past season dominating the SEC. He became the first collegiate pitcher in over a decade to throw 200 strikeouts for an entire season. Before this year, Skenes established himself as the NCAA’s best two-way player while attending Air Force. In 2022, he won 10 games as a pitcher, and hit 13 home runs from the plate. Make no mistake, while Skenes is not some sort of Shohei-lite, he may be the best pitching prospect we’ve ever seen.
On top of 209 strikeouts, he has also kept runs low. His ERA is an impressive 1.69. His WHIP is a preposterously low .750. Both stats rank in the top two for the entire NCAA (ERA ranking second, WHIP ranking first). As for Washington, the Nationals rank in the bottom five for both ERA and WHIP. If Skenes is able to withstand the minor leagues, he could make a significant impact for the Nats.
The 21-year old from Fullerton CA would immediately slot as Washington’s top pitching prospect. As he continues to dominate the NCAA, scouts have levied lofty comparisons. Some say he reminds him of Stephen Strasburg. Others say he is Degrom-esque due to his fastball-slider combo. Some have even mentioned Shohei Ohtani due to his capability as a two-way player. If the comparisons prove true, Skenes could be in the big leagues before we know it.
The SEC record holder for strikeouts in a season, Skenes continues to delight analysts. The righty has played no small part in helping LSU reach the College World Series. In a game against Wake Forest, Skenes blanked the top seeded Demon Deacons for eight innings. He tossed nine strikeouts while only allowing two hits and one walk. Skenes’ dominance in such a high pressure environment is rare, and should not go overlooked.
Skenes’ talent is unquestioned, but there may be concerns over his workload. Maybe it’s because of the Kumar Rocker debacle two years ago, or the hindsight surrounding Strasburg, but college pitchers are viewed under the harshest of microscopes. Skenes threw 120 pitches in the win over Wake Forest, a troubling number for such a young pitcher. Furthermore, Skenes ranked second in innings pitched this season. For some, they worry about drafting a pitcher with too much wear and tear.
Despite valid concerns, Skenes’ upside is too much to overlook. His fastball is big league ready, and the rest of his pitches have the potential of rounding into a nasty arsenal of breaking balls. He has proven himself on the biggest of stages thus far, and he shows no signs of slowing down. If the Nationals are lucky enough to find Skenes available, the decision is a no-brainer.