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Sunday, July 14, 2024

A Rookie Sensation Is Shaking Up MLB’s Approach to Young Talent

  • Paul Skenes is the first MLB player to go No. 1 in the draft and become an All-Star the next year.
  • The Pirates rookie has exceeded preceding hype at every level of competition.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

MLB’s biggest rookie phenom is headed to the All-Star Game, and is perhaps helping change how the entire sport thinks about its young talent in the process.

Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes (above) was named to the National League squad Sunday, less than two months after being called up to the major leagues. The 22-year-old Skenes is also the first player in league history to be selected No. 1 in the MLB draft in one year and be named an All-Star in the next. 

Such a rapid ascent is almost unheard of in baseball, a sport in which even the biggest prospects typically require multiple years of development in the minor leagues—creating a heightened challenge for the league to market its up-and-coming stars.

But at every level of competition, Skenes has proved himself even bigger than the hype that precedes him. Since joining the Pirates, Skenes has amassed a 5–0 record with 78 strikeouts in 59⅓ innings—the eighth-highest total ever for an MLB pitcher since 1901 in their first 10 starts. 

Since the July 16 All-Star Game at Globe Life Field lines up with Skenes’s normal pitching schedule, there is also rising chatter that he could even start the event for the NL. Such a designation would provide an entirely new level of national attention to Skenes, as the Pirates are still toiling with a losing record and in one of MLB’s smallest markets.

Bigger Appeal 

But there is much more to the Skenes story. Beyond his electric fastball reaching 100 miles per hour and his wipeout slider, his online fame is further burnished by his relationship with girlfriend Olivia Dunne. A star LSU gymnast and also a national collegiate champion, Dunne has a combined TikTok and Instagram following of more than 13 million—celebrating Skenes’s selection Sunday with a post generating more than 4 million views—and is one of the leading figures for college name, image, and likeness rights. 

Skenes isn’t even the most famous person in that relationship, but that could soon change if his rapid ascent continues. 

“I knew he was the sickest,” said former LSU teammate Tre’ Morgan to MLB.com. “Now, everybody in the world knows he’s the sickest.”

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