Each week I’ll be trying to provide report cards for the Top 10 College Draft Prospects throughout the NCAA baseball season. On Saturday, I released my first Weekend Report Card for the #2 draft prospect and top pitcher in the draft Chase Dollander, which can be seen by clicking here. Yesterday, we released the Opening Weekend Report Cards for the Top 6 NCAA position players, which you can read by clicking here. Weekend Report Cards are still hopefully coming for two pitchers in Wake Forest’s Rhett Lowder and Florida’s Thurston Waldrep. I still need to re-watch the latter’s start from this past Saturday, however.
It’s important to note that these report cards are reflections only of this past weekend’s performance and are not a grade reflective of their draft ranking or overall season performance. None of these players’ draft rankings will be affected by a single start. This is more an opportunity to track and see how each prospect does week to week throughout the season.
Among the elite starting pitchers making their 2023 debuts there was none more hyped than new LSU ace Paul Skenes, though the presumed top pitching prospect Chase Dollander could have an argument. And on Friday, Skenes was not just making his 2023 debut on the mound, he was making his LSU debut at home against Western Michigan in strong winds and forty degree weather.
While Rhett Lowder, and Thurston Walrep had pretty good starts and Chase Dollander pitched well while being stretched out for the season, LSU’s Paul Skenes was easily the best of the four this past weekend. For those that aren’t aware, the former Air Force standout’s arsenal includes a high 90s fastball, a mid 80s slider, and a high 80s/low 90s changeup. We’ll talk about how well he mixed his pitches in this game in a bit.
First, let’s take a look at his pitching line. In their 10-0 win over Western Michigan on Friday, Skenes went 6 innings, gave up zero runs on 3 hits while walking one and striking out 12. His 12 K’s were the most by an LSU Tiger in a season opener since 1995. On Monday, he was named the SEC Pitcher of the Week for his outstanding opening day start.
Paul Skenes threw 98 pitches over 6 innings, with 64 of those pitches coming across for strikes. He threw his fastball 84% of the time and was just painting the corners of the strike zone like an artist. 61 of his 82 fastballs were 97 MPH or higher, and when located correctly, the batter doesn’t stand a chance. In his post-game interview, Skenes said “I was really happy with my command of it [the fastball], which has been something that is an emphasis point the past couple of weeks. The slider was really good. To be honest, I wish I threw it out a little more.” To his point, he only threw 15 sliders (11 strikes), but they were effective in keeping the Western Michigan hitters off balance. The only changeup he threw came in the third inning and missed the location he was aiming at for a ball.
As Paul Skenes was pounding the strike zone with his fastball, I’m not sure why Western Michigan didn’t get more aggressive with their approach, as they stayed patient throughout the start and allowed Skenes to get ahead early and often. He only induced 12 swing and misses on his 98 pitches, with 10 of those whiffs coming against his fastball.
In terms of contact, Western Michigan did very little against the big righty. The double down the right field line came on an 85 MPH slider that had actually fooled the hitter, but got the bat out in front enough to slap it the other way. Another hit was an infield single that Tiger third baseman Jack Merrifield just missed snagging on a dive. The only hard hit balls were two ground balls; one through the infield for a hit and the other fielded by Tre Morgan at first base. Everything else was weak contact groundballs or lazy flyballs.
Outside of a 5 pitch walk to the second batter of the game, it’s hard to find even a minor fault from this dazzling debut. I would’ve like to have seen him mix in his other pitches more and induce more swing and misses, but when the fastball is as effective as it was and the hitters aren’t swinging, there’s only so much Skenes can do. He deserves an A so that I can reserve A+’s for the most special and rare of starting pitcher performances.
Weekend Grade: A