Column: El Toro’s Paul Skenes proves his worth in front of and behind the plate
When you first meet 6-foot-7 pitcher and catcher Paul Skenes of Lake Forest El Toro, the initial reaction is, “Wow.”
Besides his height and his insistence on being both a pitcher and catcher, he has a 4.8 grade-point average and has committed to Air Force.
Call him one of the most unique athletes in Southern California.
“His legs will be out the front of a fighter jet,” coach Mike Gonzales said. “They may have to put a moon roof in the plane.”
As a pitcher this season, he has allowed one run in four starts and thrown two shutouts. As a hitter, he has three home runs. He’s capable of doing anything and everything on a baseball field except catch his own pitches.
“I could actually put him at any position and he’d do real well,” Gonzales said. “In the summer, we put him at shortstop. He can play second base and the outfield. He’s a great athlete and a real good baseball player.”
Skenes entered El Toro as a 6-1 freshman, then went through a growth spurt.
“He shot up the charts,” Gonzales said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a player grow as much as he has.”
The challenge now is deciding whether Skenes is better as a pitcher or catcher. Last season he was the team’s main catcher and a closer on the mound. This season, he became a starting pitcher but continues to catch, too, when he’s not pitching.
“I definitely like to do both equally,” Skenes said. “It’s really fun to hit and pitching is really fun. I haven’t made a decision which one I’m better at.”
The pro scouts might do that for him. With each pitching start, he’s generating more excitement leading up to the June draft. He has 32 strikeouts and one walk in 27 innings and is 3-0.
“Air Force is getting a bona fide No. 1 Friday night starter,” said Casey Burrill, coach of Valencia West Ranch, whose team lost to Skenes 1-0. “He throws super hard and had command of a lot of off-speed pitches. We think he’s the real deal.”
Skenes and El Toro’s coaches are careful to monitor his arm. He’ll do less catching this season because his pitching innings are expected to rise significantly.
“I’m proactive on my recovery after pitching,” Skenes said. “Catcher is a very stressful position on the body. You’re crouching and getting up 150 times a game. There’s stress on the lower body. Pitching is obviously a pretty stressful position, too. Doing both is pretty difficult.”
Umpires appreciate how hard Skenes works to stay in a catcher’s crouch, considering the moment he stands, they’ll be seeing his back.
He believes Air Force is an ideal choice to succeed in baseball, in the classroom and in life.
On his Twitter profile, it says, “I’m Paul and I stand for the national anthem.”
“It provides me opportunities I’m looking for,” he said. “It’s a top-tier education. I’ll be competing in a legitimate conference. Most of all, I’m going to be surrounding myself with people I want to be around. They’re going to make me to be a better person.”
He also wants to be a pilot, though his height could be an issue.
“Do they make pilot jumpsuits that big?” Burrill asked.
Said Skenes: “I don’t know what plane I’ll fit into.”
He fits quite well on a pitching mound.
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