The Stunning Transformation Of Paul Skenes

There's plenty of chatter in Major League Baseball, from who's the hottest, to the who's who at-bat, to the best up-and-coming recruits for the draft. Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes seems to be the name in everyone's mouth during the 2024 season after his dominating talent and impressive college career achievements made him one to watch. Not to mention his buzzworthy relationship with Louisiana State University gymnast Olivia Dunne, which only added to his hype. The California-born player has had a fast journey to the major leagues, and it's only the beginning.

Skenes's incredible throwing arm isn't the only reason he has attracted mass attention in the MLB world. The LSU graduate had an interesting road to the Pirates locker room before signing the dotted line on a multi-million dollar baseball contract that would change his life forever. Not to mention, he was the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, and his impressive start in the 2024 season proves he has a long career ahead of him if he continues at this rate. We're pretty sure this pirate has already found plenty of gold on his journey to the MLB — here's a look at the transformation of Paul Skenes.

Paul Skenes's childhood was rooted in sports

Paul Skenes has an impressive sports background, one that runs in the family. His father, Craig, was a professional basketball player for several years, and his grandfather was a successful basketball coach. Paul decided on baseball instead of following exactly in his father's footsteps, and his incredible talent from a young age led him to try out for the 12-and-under U.S.A. national team. He ultimately made the cut, helping the national team clinch second place at the 12-U COPABE Pan American Championships in 2014.

Paul grew up in Orange County, California, with his father working for a pharmaceutical company and his mother Karen being a full-time stay-at-home mom to Paul, his older sister, Lauren, and his younger sister, Kristen. Paul's family also has a rich military background, with two of his uncles serving in the Navy and another serving in the Coast Guard.

His high school counselor, Rebecca Clark, remembers him being a kind and respectful young man with an undying optimism about him. "Dealing with teenagers, as you might be aware, they can sometimes not be all that positive and upbeat," Clark explained to the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. "And that was something that he was definitely: positive and upbeat."

He was a leader on the high school baseball field

When he was in high school, Paul Skenes had a promising career on the varsity baseball team, one that led many to believe he would make it to the big leagues. Skenes played for El Toro High School in Lake Forest, California, a school famous for its long list of alumni who were later drafted into the MLB. While he may play as a pitcher nowadays, back when he entered high school, Skenes was more often the catcher and sometimes third base, eventually making it on the varsity team his sophomore year.

As a junior, Skenes solidified his status as a top-notch pitcher when he started in a game that year and pitched a seven-inning shutout. "(As a recruit) he was more of a hitter first," said LSU's baseball coach, Jay Johnson, to the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. "And the pitching thing ... came along later. And when you see guys hit a stride like this at this time, there are bullets that were left in their arm." Skenes went on to earn an impressive resume in his senior season with El Toro, when his pitching allowed only a single earned run out of 27 innings, leaving 32 batters with strike-outs.

Off the field, Skenes had just as much charisma. "He stuck out," El Toro athletic director Armando Rivas recalled. "And our baseball program, like I said, they're very popular with all the kids. So he was just a leader on campus ... He was a pleasure to be around."

Skenes spent two years in the U.S. Air Force Academy

While Paul Skenes had plenty of potential schools to play baseball for after high school, he stood firm on committing to the U.S. Air Force Academy. Coming from a line of military veterans, Skenes was eager to serve his country after honoring the flag for his entire life. "He loves the Air Force, he loves the academy, he loves our country," El Toro High School baseball coach Michael Gonzales told the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. "This is really what he wanted to do out of high school, there's really [were] no other options for him to go."

There, Skenes underwent basic training, which isn't an easy feat for any cadet to overcome, but he looks back on it as a transformative experience that changed him as a person. "You're forced to figure out life really [quickly] and figure out how to make new friendships, and self-leadership, all that, discipline," he explained to "Those 37 days, I never want to do that again, but it's 100% shaped who I am today."

Skenes played two seasons for the Air Force Academy, taking his team to their first NCAA regional entry since 1969. He also played for the All-American team twice while also excelling in his studies and making time for 6 a.m. morning formation. The California native also snagged the title of team captain by his sophomore season with the Falcons, an honor usually slotted for upperclassmen.

He transferred to LSU in hopes of a professional career

After two years of attending the Air Force Academy, Paul Skenes faced a difficult decision. Either he stay at the academy or leave early enough to snag a chance at the major leagues. Choosing both wasn't an option, however, due to the academy's requirement to serve in the Air Force after two years. "So even if you're still in minor league baseball, major league baseball, if you're still in the Air Force, they can pull it away from you, which isn't a super common thing, but you see it occasionally," Skenes explained to reporters (via the Lafayette Daily Advertiser) in 2022.

Not willing to take the risk, Skenes opted to transfer to Louisiana State University. He ultimately crushed expectations, dominating the world of college baseball and leading the Tigers to the 2023 College World Series title. He won the Dick Howser Trophy in 2023 after being picked as the country's best NCAA Division I player for that season, plus setting a new record in the SEC for single-season strikeouts with a whopping 209.

Skenes earned legend status at LSU, but the military was still on his mind. For every strikeout earned in 2023, he donated $10 to the nonprofit organization, Folds of Honor, which aids spouses and children of fallen or wounded veterans.

Skenes met girlfriend Olivia Dunne while playing baseball for LSU

One of the sports world's most talked-about couples to date is Paul Skenes and gymnast Olivia Dunne. The buzzworthy athletes have been heating up the Internet ever since their relationship was confirmed in August 2023 after meeting at LSU. Skenes's best friend was dating Dunne's roommate at the time, which ultimately led to the two getting together. Dunne had caused a stir when she posted a photo wearing Skenes's jersey at the College World Series in June of that year, leading fans to believe that they were an item.

Skenes later confirmed that the rumors were true in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, admitting that the intense attention on their relationship isn't always easy. The Sports Illustrated model has over 5 million followers on Instagram, a huge fan base that makes it hard for Dunne to keep her personal life private. The LSU gymnast previously had to attend Skenes's games from the broadcast booth after fan interactions proved to be a huge distraction while supporting her beau.

"It's nice to be able to have that conversation. She does get it," Skenes told the Post-Gazette about relating over their careers. "I do wish she could come to a baseball game and just enjoy it. It does irk me. I don't have any control over it. She really doesn't either. I'm sure it'll get better as I go up levels, but that's something I want for her."

Skenes was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2023

After an impressive season at LSU, Paul Skenes made history when he became the first player to win a CWS title, take the title of Most Outstanding Player in the College World Series, and become the No. 1 overall draft pick all in the same year. In July 2023, Skenes was drafted into the MLB after the Pittsburgh Pirates picked him up as a pitching prospect.

"It means a lot to be the first overall pick," Skenes shared at the time (via "I'm just looking forward to what's to come with playing baseball and hopefully winning a World Series or two in Pittsburgh."

Despite his impressive statistics, Skenes still had to iron out a few kinks in the minor leagues before he would make his debut with the Pirates. "I think there's some stuff that I'm probably going to have to figure out along the way because I just haven't been exposed to professional baseball," he admitted. "With that said, my end goal is to be in the big leagues as long as possible and as soon as possible, so I'm going to do whatever it takes along the way to accomplish that goal." Thanks to his hard work and dedication, the California native had his eye on the prize to make his MLB dreams a reality.

Skenes had an impressive run in the minor leagues

Many MLB players first have runs in the minor leagues, a system of teams controlled by major league teams that allow players to develop their skills before being called up to bat by their major league team. Most minor league players spend an average of three there, and many never even get called to play in the major leagues due to the extreme amount of competition.

Paul Skenes, however, zoomed through the minor leagues. The Pirates pitcher started a total of 12 games in his brief minor league career, playing with a handful of different ranking teams before being called to make his MLB debut. By the time he made his way through the ranks from rookie ball to triple-a ball (the highest level before the majors), Skenes had racked up an impressive 0.99 ERA and 45 strikeouts in under 28 innings. Those standout statistics led Skenes to sign a contract with the Pirates after being called up to bat, granting him a $9.2 million signing bonus, the highest paid to any player in the history of the MLB draft.

His professional debut has captured the league's attention

Paul Skenes was called up to bat on May 11, 2024, ending a short minor league season and creating quite the buzz in the sports world. Skenes played his first game with the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Chicago Cubs at home. It wasn't exactly Skenes's best performance, as he ended up allowing two walks and three runs on six hits in just four innings, but the Pirates ended up victorious in a 10-9 victory over the Cubs. Still, fans held out hope for Skenes' incredible arm to do the talking.

Days later, Skenes pulled through on the road, taking on the Cubs again in a solid performance. He managed to score 11 strikeouts in six innings, even setting a record for the most strikeouts by any Pirates player at Wrigley Field. The Pirates took home the W that day in a solid 9-3 victory over the Cubs, thanks in part to some incredible strong-arming by Skenes.

"I see hope," longtime sports better Dave Sharapan told FOX Sports. "I see excitement. I see an ace. They're gonna build this team around him and Jared Jones." Thanks to Skenes' background at the academy, he feels ready to step up to the plate. "You definitely have to be able to handle stuff if you go to the Air Force," Skenes explained to ESPN. "That taught me how to not care too much about struggling and about staying steady."

Skenes plans to join the military following his MLB career

Despite a promising career in the MLB ahead of him, Paul Skenes hopes to return to his military roots. The pitcher plans to make his dreams of serving his country a reality, however long it might take him. His former Air Force Academy baseball coach, Mike Kazlausky, spoke to The Times-Picayune about Skenes's difficult decision to leave the school early, revealing that the player isn't planning for an early retirement after he hangs up his MLB bat.

"He will serve his country in some manner moving forward. It's just going to be a matter of when," Kazlausky said. "Paul and I have spoken about that piece. We'll get him back in the military once his professional playing days are over. It's a big deal for Paul to be able to serve our country." Many on the outside looked at it as a missed opportunity for the U.S. Department of Defense, as the academy would have been the talk of the town had they let Skenes do double-duty. But, as Kazlausky explained: "The Department of Defense at the time could not come up with a great solution for Paul to be able to be a professional athlete right after his junior year."

With the lack of exposure given to potential MLB players bound by a military contract, there could be many hidden gems. "It makes you wonder how many other 100 mph arms are in the academy that we should have found," Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch pondered to USA Today.