Paul Skenes Pirates Debut: What To Expect From MLB’s Top Pitching Prospect


Image credit: Paul Skenes (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

The day many in baseball have clamored for since Spring Training is finally almost here. Paul Skenes, the Pirates’ top prospect and MLB’s top pitching prospect, will make his major league debut Saturday against the Cubs, the club announced Wednesday afternoon. 

Skenes, the top overall pick in the 2023 draft, has dominated Triple-A to begin the season. Skenes has a 0.99 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP over 27.1 innings. He struck out 42.9% of batters he faced while walking just 7.6%. Last week, Skenes met multiple significant milestones as he made two starts over a six day period, and went six innings for the first time as a professional last Tuesday. 

Skenes provides the Pirates with an immediate midrotation starter with potential to lead the Pittsburgh rotation for years to come. The team is currently 17-21 but is just five games out in a wide-open NL Central. Skenes slots in behind fellow rookie phenom Jared Jones at the top of the Pirates rotation, as a formidable one-two punch of young pitching talent. 

Skenes has been as advertised in 2024, mixing a four-seam fastball that sits 99-100 mph with nearly 15 inches of horizontal run, a power sweeper in the mid-to-high-80s and a splinker that mixes traits of a sinker and splitter, sitting 94-95 mph with true sink and over 14 inches of horizontal run on average. He has also shown a cutter and more of a classic changeup. The deep pitch mix Skenes has shown in 2024 is a departure from his dominant fastball-slider mix he deployed heavily at LSU. 

Skenes is on his way to the major leagues and is ready to breathe life into a fledgling Pirates core.

Paul Skenes Scouting Report

Track Record: For two seasons at Air Force, Skenes was a talented two-way prospect with upside on the mound and in the batter’s box. He also spent summers in the Cape Cod League and with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. He transferred to Louisiana State before the 2023 season, ditched the lumber and entered his draft year as one of the best pitchers in his class. Five months later, he had helped lead LSU to a College World Series championship while cementing himself as the best arm on the board and one of a handful of serious candidates–along with LSU teammate Dylan Crews–to go No. 1 overall.

The Pirates called Skenes’ name first on draft day, then signed him for a draft-record $9.2 million. A pick later, the Nationals chose Crews, marking the first time two teammates had gone off the board with the first two selections. Skenes moved quickly in pro ball, reaching Double-A on Aug. 26. He was shut down just before a scheduled start with Altoona against Harrisburg, which could have led to his first showdown with Crews as a professional.

Scouting Report: One of the biggest keys to Skenes’ success in pro ball will revolve around the quality of his fastball. Questions arose about the pitch’s shape and whether–even if he can maintain its upper-90s velocity on a professional schedule–it would play against better hitters. If it becomes an issue, there are multiple avenues to explore, including changing the grip or the emphasis of a two-seamer as a way to continue the east-west profile created by his sweeping slider.

In pro ball, Skenes threw his two-seamer at a 44% clip, far more often than his four-seamer. His sweeper was an adjustment that came about through work at LSU, where pitching coach Wes Johnson helped him alter the pitch’s shape from its former, shorter-breaking iteration. As an amateur, scouts projected Skenes’ changeup as a potentially plus pitch. To reach that upside, he’ll need to throw the pitch more often. At LSU, Skenes threw the changeup just 7% of the time. In his brief pro experience, that jumped to 17%. At its best, the pitch is thrown in the upper 80s and features sharp fade and drop, but there’s work to do in order to get it consistently to that ceiling. The Pirates have already worked with Skenes to find a grip that works best.

Skenes also has size, athleticism and an outstanding work ethic that should allow him to get the most out of his ability, while also keeping himself open to attacking new challenges as he develops.

The Future: Between college and pro ball, Skenes threw 129.1 innings in 2023, well beyond the 89.1 he threw in 2022 between Air Force and summer ball. After an offseason of rest, he will return poised to begin climbing toward his ceiling as a top-end starter who could make his MLB debut in 2024. n

Scouting Grades Fastball: 70 | Slider: 70 | Changeup: 60 | Control: 60

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