Ben Cherington does not deal in hyperbole.
So, it was no surprise that the Pittsburgh Pirates general manager didn’t bite when someone asked if he thought Paul Skenes is a generational talent. The Pirates used the first overall pick on the LSU right-hander on Sunday night to begin MLB’s amateur draft.
“I will happily defer those tags to others outside the Pirates,” Cherington said with a smile. “He’s an incredibly talented, hard-working, disciplined, thoughtful, competitive, curious young man who happens to be 6-foot-6 and strong as an ox, throws the ball really hard and executes pitches. Put that all together and I understand where the comparisons happen and how people talk about him.
“We’re excited that he’s a Pirate. We obviously love the talent and the ability and what his future is but we’re really excited that Paul Skenes the person is going to be a Pirate also.”
Skenes seems almost too good to be true.
He was smart enough and disciplined enough to be admitted to the United States Air Force Academy upon his graduation from high school in the Los Angeles area. He took the gamble of leaving the academy and transferring to LSU prior to this past college baseball season.
The move couldn’t have paid off any better. Skenes was the Most Outstanding Player as LSU won the College World Series last month and then he was the first pick in the draft.
Skenes had a 12-2 record, 1.69 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in 19 starts with 209 strikeouts in 122.2 innings.
There are few things baseball people enjoy doing more than comparing one player to another. It is cooked into their DNA.
However, Cherington wouldn’t come up with a comp for Skenes.
“You’ll come up with one that’s more fun than me,” Cherington said. “I don’t know. I think this guy is Paul Skenes. I think part of what drew us to him is he’s very focused on being the best version of Paul Skenes and he’s tackled everything that’s in front of him to do that.
“Look, people talk about Air Force and LSU. Think about at the moment, a young man making those decisions. There would have been easier places to go out of high school than the Air Force Academy. There certainly would have been easier things to do, rather than transfer into the SEC in your draft year. Those are just two examples. There’s certainly others, but this is someone who, not just willing to take on challenges, but craves it. To me, we’re just going to be comparing Paul Skenes to Paul Skenes.”
Skenes also isn’t into the comparison game.
“I don’t know about comparisons to myself because I think I’m a mixture of a number of different pitchers,” he said.
However, Skenes did list four major-league pitchers he admires – the Texas Rangers’ Jacob deGrom, the Atlanta Braves’ Spencer Strider, the San Diego Padres’ Yu Darvish and the New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole.
The Pirates selected Cole with the first overall pick in the 2011 draft from UCLA.
Those are pretty good pitchers to emulate. DeGrom has won two Cy Young awards and Strider was runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year in 2022 while Darvish and Cole have each been selected to five All-Star Games.
“I know I probably don’t look exactly like any of those guys, but that’s what I feel as I move down the mound,” the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Skenes said.