A year ago at this time, Paul Skenes was the 1st player taken in the Major League Baseball Draft.

Today, he’s heading to the MLB All-Star Game as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Unlike the NFL or NBA drafts, that kind of rapid progression isn’t the rule in baseball, where most new draftees spend the 1st few seasons of their career working their way up the minor league ladder.

It’s the exception.

But if there’s anyone among this year’s crop of draft-eligible prospects capable of speeding up the process and following in Skenes’ footsteps, it’s Wake Forest’s Chase Burns.

The hard-throwing right-hander won’t be the No. 1 overall pick. That’s an honor reserved for a position player this year. Most likely Oregon State’s Travis Bazzana, West Virginia’s JJ Wetherholt, Georgia’s Charlie Condon or Florida’s Jac Caglianone.

He might not even be the 1st pitcher to come off the board. It will come down to either Burns or Arkansas lefty Hagen Smith.

Depending on which mock draft you prefer, Burns could go as early as No. 3 to the Colorado Rockies or slide a little further down to the Kansas City Royals at No. 6 or St. Louis Cardinals at No. 7.

That’s about the only doubt concerning Burns.

With the help of Wake’s renowned pitching lab, he solved the command issues that relegated him to the bullpen at Tennessee last year and became virtually unhittable with a fastball that tops out at 101 MPH and a nasty slider that had even the best hitters flailing away helplessly. He went 10-1 with a 2.70 earned run average and a school-record 191 strikeouts in 100 innings. 

Wherever he ends up, he’s got the arm, the competitiveness and the resume to be on the fast track to The Show.

“He’s the best college pitcher I’ve seen,” Wake coach Tom Walter said after Burns blew away a career-high 16 Clemson hitters in a mid-May victory. “That’s no knock on Paul Skenes, who obviously shut us out for 8 innings last year (at the College World Series) and was awesome … Chase Burns is the best I’ve seen.”

That’s saying a lot. Because not only did Walter witness Skenes 1st-hand in Omaha last June, his own ace – 2-time ACC Pitcher of the Year Rhett Lowder – was just as dominant in matching the LSU star zero-for-zero in that epic, high-stakes duel.

Lowder was picked No. 7 overall by the Cincinnati Reds and will be pitching in next week’s MLB Futures Game. He was the 1st of 2 Wake players drafted in the 1st round. Third baseman Brock Wilken, who went to the Milwaukee Brewers 11 picks later at No. 18, was the other.

Even though this year’s team fell short of a return to the CWS, it’s projected to have an even bigger haul of 1st-round selections. In addition to Burns, 1st baseman Nick Kurtz is ranked as the No. 7 prospect on MLB.com’s Top 100 list while Wilken’s replacement, transfer 3rd baseman Seaver King, is ranked No. 17.

Rounds 1-2 will be held on Sunday, July 14 in Fort Worth Tex., starting at 7 p.m. with television coverage on ESPN. The Cleveland Guardians have the No. 1 overall pick. Rounds 3-10 will follow Monday with the final 10 rounds on Tuesday.

This will be the 33rd straight draft in which the ACC will have had at least 1 player taken in the opening round and the 9th consecutive draft in which it has produced at least 1 of the top 15.

Among the other ACC players projected to be selected Sunday night include conference Player of the Year James Tibbs III, ranked No. 12 by MLB.com, his Florida State teammate Cameron Smith at No. 14 and North Carolina’s Vance Honeycutt – the 1st player in league history to amass at least 60 career home runs and 70 career stolen bases – at No. 22.

There’s also a possibility that Duke left-hander Jonathan Santucci (No. 37) Virginia shortstop Griff O’Ferrall (No. 38) and NC State catcher Jacob Cozart (No. 42) could also sneak into the 1st round or the 6-team “Competitive Balance” phase sandwiched between the 1st and 2nd rounds.

Besides Wake Forest, Florida State, Virginia, UNC and NC State are the ACC teams most likely to have the most players selected in this year’s draft. It’s no coincidence that those are also the 4 conference teams that made it all the way to the CWS this year.

The showcase of a strong postseason run and an appearance in Omaha, regardless of how short, helped several players improve their draft stock.

There might even be a few MLB All-Stars among them.

Maybe not in 2025. But someday soon.