LUBBOCK, Texas – When listing the characteristics of two-way talent Paul Skenes, Air Force Academy head baseball coach Mike Kazlausky’s most glowing endorsements had nothing to do with baseball.
Kazlausky raved about the sophomore’s leadership above everything else, citing examples of how Skenes not only holds himself accountable but also his teammates as well as others around the Colorado Springs campus.
“He could come back and lead this campus one day,” said Kazlausky, himself a retired major and pilot as well as a former baseball standout and 1991 Academy graduate. “He’s an All-American as a person.”
Those leadership and accountability traits played a major role in the Falcons putting together one of their best seasons in school history, which ended in the school’s first Mountain West Conference title as well as its first berth in the NCAA tournament since 1969. Leading the charge both on the mound and at the plate was Skenes.
The right-handed pitcher and catcher put together a monster season despite missing time early dealing with back issues. He established himself as not only one of the top players in the Mountain West but also one of the top two-way talents in the country, and for that he is the winner of the 2022 John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award.
“It was clear from the beginning of the season that Paul was going to be one of the favorites based on the abilities he showed last year, and his sophomore season was nothing short of tremendous,” said George Watson, co-chair of the Olerud Award selection committee. “Despite missing time early in the season that limited him offensively, he still put together an outstanding season in leading the Falcons to the postseason. But more than that, Skenes demonstrated tremendous character in leading the program to heights it has not reached in more than 50 years. His refusal to accept mediocrity from himself and his teammates was infectious throughout the program, and he backed it up each time he took the mound or stepped up to the plate. We are excited to see what the future holds for him and are proud to have him represent the John Olerud Award.”
The award is named for the former Washington State University standout who achieved success both as a first baseman and left-handed pitcher during the late 1980s and who was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. The award will be presented by the College Baseball Foundation later this year.
A team captain for the Falcons, Skenes actually entered the transfer portal shortly after the completion of Air Force’s season as he seeks the opportunity to play professionally after his junior season. But he also is committed to serving in some capacity, indicating a return to the Academy is on the table in the future.
On the season, Skenes played in 52 games, starting 51, and hit .314 with 13 home runs and 38 RBI while compiling a 1.046 OPS. He also committed just two errors on the season. On the mound, he served as the Falcons’ Friday starter, going 10-3 with a 2.73 ERA. In 15 starts, he struck out 96 and walked just 30 in 85.2 innings while holding opponents to a .224 batting average.
As much as his statistics speak for themselves, however, Kazlausky was quick to point out Skenes’ impact in the locker room and around campus, noting how unusual it was for a sophomore at the Academy to be named team captain, but also citing his overall presence, work ethic and high-caliber attitude.
Skenes said his desire to serve and his sense of accountability were the reasons he chose the Air Force Academy coming out of Lake Folsom, Calif., and knows he will take those traits with him wherever his journey leads.
In addition to the Olerud Award, Skenes, a preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball, D1 Baseball and Baseball America, also was named the Mountain West Co-Pitcher of the Year – only the second Air Force hurler to earn such an honor, and he was named a first-team all-conference selection for both the regular season and the conference tournament. He also was named a first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and was named to the Golden Spikes Watch List, which honors the top amateur baseball player in the country.
For more information on the College Baseball Foundation’s John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award, visit www.collegebaseballhall.org.