Paul Skenes Wows With His Stuff, Maturity Ahead Of 2024 Season


Image credit: Paul Skenes (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

The crowd is silent when Pirates righthander Paul Skenes prepares to pitch.

The first overall pick out of LSU last year has an arsenal led by a fastball that sits in the high 90s and touched as high as 102 mph this spring. The sound of Skenes’ fastball exploding in the catcher’s mitt is punctuated by silence, as fans silently wait for the high-profile pitch.

“It’s a cool feeling,” said Skenes of the silent anticipation from the crowd. “My goal is for people to come to the game and want to watch the art of it.”

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Skenes is no stranger to the big stage. He won a College World Series last year with LSU. Pittsburgh fans got the first featured look at him in the Spring Breakout game against Orioles prospects.

Skenes pitched a single inning in the 3-1 Pirates victory, retiring Enrique Bradfield Jr., Jackson Holliday and Connor Norby in order. The highlight was the matchup against Holliday, which pitted the top pitching prospect in the game against the top hitting prospect. Skenes battled back from 2-0 and 3-1 counts with his offspeed stuff, eventually striking out Holliday swinging on a 91-mph slider.

“He’s a good hitter,” Skenes said of Holliday. “It was cool to go out there, have a plan and execute it. I know we’re gonna face each other a lot more, whether in spring training or in the regular season.”

Aside from the Spring Breakout game, Skenes threw just three innings in big league camp. The Pirates sent him down to the minors early, where he will pitch for Triple-A Indianapolis.

“Paul made a great impression in spring training,” Pirates GM Ben Cherington said. “There are some boxes still to check for Paul in the minor leagues. He’ll have the opportunity to build some volume, work on a pro schedule and compete against upper-level pro hitters consistently for the first time.”

The Pirates feel that the adjustment from the once-per-week college schedule to the five- or six-day professional rotation is the first box for Skenes to check. That requires a different lifting schedule, adjustments on when he throws his between-starts bullpen session and off-field adjustments to prepare himself for the next start.

This is a departure from the college schedule, where a pitcher like Skenes throws every Friday night.

“It’s different, more than anything,” Skenes said of the adjustment to the pro schedule. “I don’t know that it’s harder or easier. It’s just different. The nice thing is we find out when we’re pitching at least four days in advance.”

Skenes was drafted first overall not just for the stuff, but for his maturity and work ethic. The Pirates saw that during his entrance interviews coming into camp, when they discussed what the 6-foot-6, 235-pound righthander would focus on this year.

“He was as comprehensive in his preparation as we were, and we were pretty damn prepared to talk to him,” Pirates farm director John Baker said. “(Skenes) sets a really high standard for work ethic, preparation and competitive mindset. He goes out there and he suffocates opposing lineups with really good stuff in the strike zone.

“And that stuff only continues to get better.”

Aside from his triple-digit fastball, Skenes also throws a plus slider, changeup, curveball and a new pitch he calls a “splinker.” It’s a sinker-splitter hybrid with a lot of vertical drop. While Skenes didn’t get many innings, he found a way to use all of his pitches in big league camp, and that includes using the splinker in the Spring Breakout game.

“I mean, he sat 100 (miles per hour) in all of his outings, bumped it up to 102 a few times,” Baker said, “and now he’s adding pitches that have different shapes and profiles that are generated by him. It’s going to be a nightmare for opposing lineups for a long time to come.”

With all of the hype that comes from Skenes being the first overall pick and throwing a triple-digit fastball with strong secondary stuff, Pirates fans anxiously await his MLB debut. They’re not alone in wanting to see the top prospect in the system reach the majors in 2024.

“Frankly, it kind of mirrors my own expectations, my own hopes for the year,” said Skenes, who also noted that he’s only one guy in a system deep with hitting and pitching talent. “I understand what Pirates fans are thinking and kind of what the messaging has been.

“But we’ve got a really deep system, and we’re going to be winning for a long time, regardless of whether I’m there tomorrow or June or September.”

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