PITTSBURGH – The words might come back to haunt Paul Skenes one day. Or maybe he will look back and shrug them off as the optimistic musings of a 21-year-old.
Perhaps, though, they could turn out to be prophetic in a world where dreams eventually come true.
“I’m excited about the opportunity and looking forward to being a big part of a group that is going to win the World Series,” Skenes said Tuesday during his introductory news conference at PNC Park.
Win the World Series? The Pirates haven’t done that since 1979. That also marks the last year the franchise even won a postseason series.
So, it might be a pipedream for Skenes to think he is going to win a championship ring in a Pirates’ uniform.
However, a newly minted millionaire is allowed to dream about winning titles. And so can a long-suffering franchise after adding someone considered one of the top pitching prospects since Major League Baseball instituted the amateur draft in 1965.
Skenes had a season for the ages this year at LSU, which led to the Pirates selecting him first in the draft on July 9 in Seattle.
Skenes helped lead the Tigers to the national championship after transferring from the United States Air Force Academy. He was selected Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series to cap a season in which he went 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in 19 starts with 209 strikeouts in 122 2/3 innings.
The Pirates agreed with Skenes on a $9.2-million signing bonus, the largest ever for a drafted player. The old record was $8,416,300, which is what first baseman Spencer Torkelson received from the Detroit Tigers as the top pick in 2021.
“Look, Paul earned his way to the first selection,” Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said. “He earned every bit of that and in terms of how that sort of shakes out or manifests in the bonuses, I mean the bonus pool is going to, in theory, grow over time for every team in the industry, and that means that over time, the highest bonus will continue to get broken at some point. That’s just the way it goes. But for us, I think I said before, this was a difficult decision, but on that Sunday (when the draft began) also became a very clear decision and we’re really excited that he’s a Pirate.”
Skenes also genuinely seems excited to join the Pirates despite their long-running streak of futility. After being in first place in the National League Central on June 15, the Pirates have gone off the proverbial cliff and are now in last place with a 41-54 record.
Watching from a private box, Skenes saw a clunker of a game on Tuesday night as the Pirates were routed by the Cleveland Guardians 10-0. Pirates ace Mitch Keller was rocked for eight runs in six innings. Skenes probably could have done better.
In yet another rebuilding effort, the Pirates believe Skenes can be a cornerstone player. Skenes believes in the Pirates’ youth movement and is confident it will result in a big payoff.
“I met with (Cherington) and a couple others before the draft,” Skenes said. “The thing that struck me most was just their intelligence in terms of running the organization, and I met with some of the coaches and their intelligence in terms of player development. I think the thing that struck me the most is you see the finished product on the field, but a lot of people don’t see the process that goes into it. The care, not just for the player, but the person, which makes me think this is the right organization for me and for a lot of other people.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to be around these individuals. I’m also excited to have the opportunity to go back up and go to another World Series. That’s the goal. That starts tomorrow.”
It’s been a lot of yesterdays since the Pirates have gone to the World Series. The team’s perpetually suffering fans can only hope Skenes reaches his lofty dream.