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Paul Skenes Unbothered by Lofty Expectations Ahead of Debut

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Paul Skenes, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — I remember when Paul Skenes had his first media scrum at spring training in front of his locker at Pirate City.

Already aware of his talent, the first thing I took note of was the big right-hander’s stature. At 6-feet-6-inches and 260 pounds, it’s pretty hard to look past.

One of my biggest takeaways from talking with him for the first time was his demeanor. If you didn’t know who he was, you never would have guessed it was his first time in a major-league spring training as a 21-year-old. For a prospect who has garnered so much buzz, Skenes was incredibly grounded.

Among that many questions that were thrown at him from the hoard of beat writers on scene, I remember asking him about how he deals with being the consensus top pitching prospect in baseball. Is it something he embraces or does he tune it out?

“Honestly, it’s kind of just words,” Skenes said in Bradenton, Fla. “I’ve got to go out there and prove it. It’s cool to have other people think that, but it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. It’s about executing and winning baseball games. Probably a little bit of both, I think. That kind of thing is not something you should shy away from by any stretch because denying it probably bring some other issues. But at the end of the day, it’s about pitching well.”

A well thought out answer for a player put on a pedestal before barely scratching the surface as a professional.

Not even three months after that day in spring training, Skenes is set to make his Pittsburgh Pirates’ debut when they take on the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on Saturday.

In between his time at his first spring camp and his debut, Skenes made seven starts at Triple-A Indianapolis and posted a microscopic 0.99 ERA. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Skenes struck out 45 batters in 27.1 innings pitched.

As Skenes is set to embark on what looks to be a promising big-league career, the same grounded personality has followed him. He’s not getting ahead of himself and he’s not letting the moment get too big.

“Day at a time,” Skenes said on how he’s handling all the notoriety during Friday’s press conference at PNC Park. “I do my best to not see any of it, but it’s unavoidable at the same time. You’re going to have to see some of it. The biggest thing is just showing up and working. Taking it a day at a time.”

Perhaps Skenes is able to stay level because of the journey he took to get to this point.

Prior to bursting on the scene at LSU during his junior year of college, Skenes spent his first two collegiate years at the Air Force Academy. In seemingly no time at all, he’s gone from Air Force to winning the College World Series, to being the first-overall pick, to getting called up to the big leagues for the first time.

“I try to look back and reflect as much as I can,” Skenes said. “It doesn’t feel like a blur. Two years ago feels really long ago and really short ago at the same time, if that makes sense. In some ways, it flew by. In some ways, it was really long. The biggest thing is [take it] a day at a time, and just putting the work in and stuff like this can happen. Not just for me, but anybody. A lot of blessings have come my way, not just over the past couple years, but throughout my entire career. I think this is a step, I think, in that.”

Skenes’ ability on the mound and his impressive pitch mix are what got him to this point. On the field, he has all the makings to be perennial  Cy Young candidate. He has a 100 mph fastball, a wipeout slider and other pitches he can use to get outs. On top of it, he’s gifted physically.

Considering all of that, Skenes’ mental makeup might be his best attribute, and it’s what gives him an even further advantage when he’s on the mound.

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