Skenes electric in perfect Triple-A debut, averages 100 on 21 fastballs

March 30th, 2024

The Pirates sent to Triple-A Indianapolis to begin the 2024 season in hopes of getting him a little more professional experience before making his MLB debut.

One start into the season, the top pitching prospect in baseball (No. 3 overall) looks as dominant as can be.

In Saturday's start against the Bats at Louisville Slugger Field, Skenes struck out five across three perfect innings. And it's not just that the results were excellent -- his stuff was top-notch as well.

Across 21 fastballs, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 Draft averaged 100.1 mph, reached triple-digits a dozen times and touched 101.2 mph in the third inning. None of his heaters came in below 99.1 mph. In the Statcast era, only two Major League pitchers (Jacob deGrom and Hunter Greene) have had a start with as many fastballs and a higher average fastball velocity.

Skenes garnered an impressive 12 whiffs in just 46 pitches, with six coming on his four-seamer, three coming on his slider, two coming on his sinker and one coming on his changeup. That adds up to a 52 percent whiff rate -- including 43 percent on his fastball alone.

"That tells me that I'm using my pitches correctly more than anything, in terms of counts and setting up hitters and that kind of thing," Skenes said. "There are definitely days where stuff plays down or stuff plays up. I don't know that today was one of those days, but I'm just super happy with the game plan that we had, how we called the game, attacking each hitter individually, and I think that set it up more than anything."

One of Skenes' biggest tasks early in the season is building up his workload. He only pitched 6 2/3 professional innings last year after signing for a record $9.2 million bonus, and following a pair of single-inning Spring Training starts in Major League camp, the goal was to get to three innings -- although the righty felt that 46 pitches were a bit high for what he wanted. Moving from a seven-day pitching cycle in college to a five-day schedule, which he's already started, will be an adjustment, but he felt good physically coming out of the start.

The LSU product has been happy with how his stuff has played so far against top competition, whether facing the Rays' big league team, starring in Spring Breakout or debuting at Triple-A. The four times opponents put a ball in play averaged an exit velocity below 80 mph, and only one qualified as hard-hit (a 97.4 mph groundout).

Still, there's always something to improve on, whether it's the shape of his pitches or how he uses them.

"I got too deep into some counts," Skenes said. "It was just a little bit of like first start of the year, just overcooked some pitches. Not like jitters or nerves or anything like that, just trying to do too much with some pitches. And as the hitters get more used to seeing stuff and that kind of thing, I'm not going to get away with that in the middle of the year. So I'm just going to try to be as perfect as possible with that kind of stuff."

More adjustments will come, but Skenes can take solace in a near-flawless introduction to the top level of Minor League Baseball despite some early-season rust. And if his electric stuff continues to play as he builds back up his stamina, he may not have many more starts with Indianapolis before getting the call east to Pittsburgh.