How Does Paul Skenes Compare To Top MLB Pitching Prospects?
Few college pitchers in recent memory have garnered the level of praise and buzz that Louisiana State righthander Paul Skenes has this season. Some evaluators have even called him the best collegiate pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg, who was drafted No. 1 overall by the Nationals in 2009.
Every year a group of top-of-the-draft prospects earns praise among public analysts and draft writers. However, more often than we’d care to admit the praise falls into the hyperbole category with a majority of these players failing to live up to the lofty expectations doled out by those that cover this beat.
In order to determine whether Skenes’ recent buzz matches what the industry believes, we spoke with a variety of analysts and high-level decision makers in the game to see how Skenes compares to the top pitching prospects in the game: the Orioles’ Grayson Rodriguez, the Marlins’ Eury Perez and the Phillies’ Andrew Painter.
First let’s discuss Skenes’ stuff. After two years at Air Force and consecutive summers spent with the Collegiate National Team, Skenes flashed a mid-90s fastball with average shape, a tight gyro slider in the mid 80s and a changeup. There’s been noticeable differences this season. Skenes’ fastball velocity is up to 97-98 mph, touching 100 mph regularly. While the shape on the fastball is still somewhat pedestrian he’s seen tremendous success with the pitch.
His slider, on the other hand, has taken a significant step forward in terms of shape and power. His tight, gyro-style slider has been replaced by a sweeper with velocity in the 84-87 mph range. He now features a rare combination of power and movement, so much so that Skenes' slider would rate highly when compared to the best sliders in the major leagues on stuff alone.
The pitch has continually stifled opposing batters this season with a combined slash line of .056/.073/.074 against the pitch. The pitch has a combination of remarkable production traits as well, with a 67% strike rate, a 67% whiff rate and a 40% chase rate. Only one extra-base hit has been allowed by Skenes’ slider as well.
Skenes’ changeup has seen good results but has been rarely used this season, accounting for just 62 of Skenes’ 851 pitches in 2023. He does have an opposing slash line of .200/.200/.200 against it with a 50% whiff rate, a 30% chase rate and no extra-base hits allowed. There’s certainly some optimism around the pitch and a belief that he just hasn’t needed to throw his changeup much to dominate against collegiate hitters.
The Big Three
The inspiration for this article was an internal discussion among Baseball America writers. I tend to be more skeptical of college performance for pitchers, and the top pitcher in the class title has held somewhat of a curse in professional ball in recent years. The easy rebuttal for many is simple—none of the top college pitchers over the last decade have been as good as Skenes, an argument that might be true. So how should we compare a talent like Skenes to the de facto “big three” of Rodriguez, Perez and Painter, the top pitching prospects in the game?
To answer this question I contacted a few analysts and high-level decision makers for comment on how they would compare and contrast the three.
One high ranking analyst: “If Painter was healthy he’d be 1, but he’s not. So I’d probably go Grayson, Eury, Skenes, Painter.
“That’s a tough exercise, Eury and Skenes don’t have the depth of arsenal that Grayson and Painter have. But they have excellent fastballs that they command really well. I’m tempted to put Skenes higher, what he’s doing right now is insane but he’s also the only one of the four who hasn’t shown he can do it on a pro schedule. With pitchers and how often they break, Grayson being in the major leagues now certainly weighs in his favor. Now the knock on Grayson is the shapes have degraded a touch as he’s adjusted his delivery to a more sustainable arm slot and release.”
Another high ranking analyst: “Skenes is a tough one. Fastball is obviously overpowering, right up there with all of these guys. The slider to righthanded hitters has been unfair as well. And when you can throw that sort of stuff in the zone, you can forgive whatever lack of command there might be (if there is any at all). Comps against Grayson/Eury is tough because both those guys have 3-4 pitches they'll use and are effective. Just easier to envision how they're attacking both sides.
“Three out of every four pitches to lefthanded hitters this year has been four-seam fastballs for Skenes, which invites some questions. Does the slider play as well to lefthanded hitters as it does to righthanded hitters? Is he comfortable to use it against lefthanded hitters? Is the changeup good enough if either of those answers is no? Similar to Painter in this way; unfair to righties, 70% fastballs to lefties, so maybe it will.
“Ultimately I think he belongs in that mix, though. I'm nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking. Any questions you can ask yourself about a 6'8” athlete who sits 98 with a 70 slider and can consistently and easily fill the zone with both is nitpicking.”
Special assistant to a general manager: “He’s a once in every 10 years type of guy. He’s really good. The arm action can look a little reliever/catcher to me when I watch it, but he’s ploughing fastballs on the black and throwing 100. He’s good.”
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A national crosschecker weighs in: "He’s definitely the best college pitcher I’ve seen this year. Trying to think back, Strasburg might be the best I’ve seen. He’s probably the best guy since Strasburg. I saw him at Texas A&M earlier this year and he carried like 100 mph into the seventh inning with a plus slider. Just dominating. From last summer to where he is now, he’s just made a huge step up. Stuff, pitchability, strikes, obviously throwing harder, but the slider has gotten to be a true wipeout pitch.
"He stacks up right with Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer. It’d be hard to separate the four of those guys. He fits right with those other three guys, and it’d be hard to pref those guys out if you had too (sic).
"I don’t know if it was putting down the bat and not hitting and just concentrating on pitching, that probably had a little to do with it. And then obviously the pitching coach there coming from the Twins I think helped him and helped guys on that staff a lot.
"He’s going to be a quick mover to the big leagues. I’d say he’ll take the same route that Cole and Bauer took. It wouldn’t be shocked if he was in a rotation by this time next year."