Everything you need to know about Paul Skenes' debut

May 11th, 2024

The wait for is finally almost over.

The most anticipated pitching prospect of his generation made his big league against the Cubs at PNC Park on Saturday afternoon. Here is all the info about his debut.

What number will Skenes wear?

Skenes will wear No. 30. He wore 20 with LSU last year, but the Pirates retired that number in 1972 for Pie Traynor.

How old is Skenes?

Skenes was born May 29, 2002. He will become just the third Pirates pitcher to start a game before his 22nd birthday in the Wild Card era (since 1995), joining Roansy Contreras (Sept. 29, 2021) and Sean Burnett (May 30, 2004).

Why is Skenes such a big deal?

It’s not every day that a pitcher like this comes along. Only a handful of pitchers can touch the 102 mph Skenes can ramp up to, and it’s almost unheard of for a starter to consistently sit in the triple digits with his fastball. That’s only a fraction of what he can do on the mound, too. He features a full five-pitch arsenal and can get whiffs with all of them.

To borrow the words of longtime pitching coach and Pirates special advisor on pitching development Dewey Robinson, “He’s one in a decade.”

How long will Skenes pitch in his debut?

While the Pirates almost certainly won’t tip their hand before the game, Skenes has maxed out at 75 pitches over six innings in a start on April 30. The Bucs have been very mindful of his work usage and build-up for his first full season, which is a major reason why he’s debuting just now.

He’s going to be on five days' rest, so the leash may be a bit longer, but it’s hard to envision him throwing over 100 pitches or going eight or more innings. A safer projection would be 80-something pitches over six frames, assuming all goes reasonably well.

What can we expect from Skenes?

The short answer is some big stuff, including a triple-digit fastball, a wipeout slider, a curveball and changeup that have developed in Triple-A, plus a new offering, the “splinker” (a splitter-sinker).

MLB Pipeline’s bio on him tells the story of the game’s No. 3 prospect:

“At 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, Skenes brings an imposing presence to the mound. A former catcher, he’s athletic on the hill, repeating his delivery well and filling the strike zone exceedingly well, especially given his premium stuff. He has all the makings of a frontline starter, one who should not take very long to make his presence felt in Pittsburgh.”

Will Skenes slot right into the rotation and pitch every fifth day?

That’s the plan and what the Pirates have been building towards. There’s a good argument to be made that Skenes was Major League-ready stuff-wise as soon as he was drafted, but the college game is very different than the professional game in that pitchers start once a week rather than every five days. That’s been one of the main areas the Bucs have tried to ease him into in his brief time in pro ball, and he pitched on four days’ rest for the first time Sunday without issue.

“It’s just checking off another box in the process of what we feel he needs to be ready to do to pitch in the big leagues,” said manager Derek Shelton.

Who is Skenes’ player comparison?

The most obvious comparison is Stephen Strasburg. There hasn’t been a pitching debut this hyped since Strasburg broke through with the Nationals in 2010. There’s a case to be made that Skenes can really be compared to any of the top pitching prospects in the game’s history, too.

Where is he from?

Skenes was born in Fullerton, Calif., and attended El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif. Before being drafted by the Pirates, Skenes spent the first two years of his collegiate career with the Air Force Academy before transferring to LSU ahead of his junior year.

How did the Pirates acquire him?

The Pirates took Skenes first overall in the 2023 MLB Draft, a product of them winning the inaugural Draft lottery. It’s safe to say there aren’t many complaints about the new Draft system from Pittsburgh.