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One Clear-Cut Comparison for Paul Skenes

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Paul Skenes, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pirates prospects

As Paul Skenes gears up for his widely-anticipated debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s easy to draw parallels with Gerrit Cole.

Both right-handed pitchers were drafted out of college with the first pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Cole’s debut generated plenty of buzz, aided by the fact that the Pirates were off to a 37-26 start en route to what would be their first playoff appearance in over two decades.

While Cole and Skenes will be compared for obvious reasons, there is a starting pitcher whose situation is eerily similar to that of Skenes’.

In the 2009 draft, the Washington Nationals selected right-hander Stephen Strasburg with the top pick out of San Diego State University.

Strasburg, like Skenes, is a native of southern California. It was said at the time he was drafted that Strasburg would be quick to reach the big leagues and was labeled as the savior of the franchise by many. 

As a minor-leaguer, Strasburg made 11 starts and totaled 55.1 innings pitched before he was promoted to the majors for his debut.

Sound familiar to anyone?

On top of it all, Strasburg made his first start with the Nationals against the Pirates. He took a big league mound for the first time on June 9, 2010 and it was a debut to remember.

Strasburg eviscerated the Pirates’ lineup that night. He allowed two runs on four hits in seven innings and struck out 14 batters without issuing a single walk.

Though he was plagued by injuries, especially in the latter part of his career, Strasburg had a storied tenure with the Nationals during his 13 years with the team.

Strasburg made 247 starts during his time with the Nationals and compiled a 113-62 record with a 3.24 ERA and 1,723 strikeouts in 1,470 innings pitched. Among the accomplishments Strasburg had in his career include three All-Star appearances and three top-10 Cy Young finishes, including two in the top five.

Most notably, Strasburg helped lead Washington to its first World Series title in 2019. That year, Strasburg went 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA in 33 starts. He made two starts in the World Series against the Houston Astros and won both decisions. He was ultimately named MVP of the Fall Classic after posting a 2.51 ERA across 14.1 innings pitched.

Say what you want about Strasburg’s career as a No. 1 pick given his injury history, but a World Series ring will forever cement his legacy in Washington.

As Skenes embarks on the start of his career, he does so with the same expectations that were placed on Strasburg prior to his debut 14 years ago. Afterall, Skenes was considered the top pitching prospect since Strasburg in last year’s draft.

Now, an argument can be made that Skenes has surpassed Strasburg’s status from his days as a prospect given what he’s done in his small showing as a professional.

In seven starts this season with Triple-A Indianapolis, Skenes posted a 0.99 ERA and struck out nearly 43% of the batters he faced. This comes on the heels of an excellent final collegiate season with the LSU Tigers.

If Skenes is one day able to help the Pirates raise a World Series banner as Strasburg did in D.C., he would never have to buy a beer in Pittsburgh again.

That might be the highest complement you can pay a professional athlete in this city. 

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