Pirates tell Skenes he won't make Opening Day roster

No. 3 overall prospect will remain in big league camp, however, per GM Cherington

March 5th, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. -- While it always seemed like a remote chance of happening, general manager Ben Cherington announced Tuesday that the Pirates told their top pitching prospect, , that he will not be on the Opening Day roster.

Skenes, the No. 1 pick in last year’s MLB Draft and the No. 3 overall prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, will still be in the Pirates’ Major League camp for the “foreseeable future,” Cherington said, but he will not be traveling with the team to Miami for Opening Day later this month.

Cherington told Skenes about the decision Tuesday morning, one day after the team reassigned some of their other top young pitching prospects -- including Bubba Chandler (No. 5) and Anthony Solometo (No. 4) -- as part of their first round of spring roster cuts.

“He has not had the benefit of the full Minor League season,” Cherington said of Skenes. “We’re also trying to put him in a position where he has the best chance possible to help us win games in Pittsburgh as soon as possible. We just think a little bit more time in Major League Spring Training around our staff, players, the catching group, the game-planning process, kind of everything about it, hopefully can speed that up just a little bit more. And then that’ll play into how we get the season started and what the volume progression looks like going into the season.”

A decision hasn’t been made yet on which affiliate Skenes will start the season with, but it seems safe to assume it will be either Double-A Altoona or Triple-A Indianapolis, given that he finished last season pitching for the former.

Cherington acknowledged how well Skenes took the news, with his reaction being to ask what he had to do that day.

“I’ve thrown 6 2/3 innings in pro ball,” Skenes said. “It’s just kind of how it goes. [Cherington] said it would be unprecedented if I started the year in the big leagues. That’s kind of how it goes. Not that I don’t think I can do it, but I understand it.”

It would have been a fairly unprecedented decision to have Skenes break camp with the big league team. Skenes threw just 235 innings in his collegiate career, 122 2/3 of which came at LSU, followed by five starts that totaled 6 2/3 innings in the Minors last year. Looking at some other highly touted pitching prospects over the last 20 years who threw a comparable number of collegiate frames, Gerrit Cole threw 200 Minor League innings before his promotion to the Majors, Stephen Strasburg threw 55 1/3 innings before his debut and Walker Buehler appeared in 31 games before his first callup.

Skenes’ workload is going to need to be monitored, given that his competitive innings in college went from 26 2/3 as a freshman to 85 2/3 to 122 2/3. A similar bump in workload would put him around the 160-inning mark.

“As we looked at the total work volume last year, the innings between LSU and pro ball, we look at what’s a reasonable projection for 2024 and try to manage that for a full season,” Cherington said. “We just feel like it’s more realistic and better for us to start that process in the Minor Leagues.”

With that said, Skenes still approached this camp like he had a chance to be one of the team’s 26 Opening Day players.

“I think it would be pointless to be here and not want to make the team,” Skenes said. “It would be like, ‘What are we here for?’ But, yeah, that’s the goal. The goal is to be a Major Leaguer and win a World Series, do all that. This is where it starts. I’ve spent a lot of time over the offseason thinking about it. Saw the data and that kind of thing on other guys who have come before. I knew the likelihood was pretty low.”

Despite being told the bad news, Skenes says nothing will change with how he approaches the rest of this spring. He has wowed in games thus far, striking out three and lighting up the radar gun with 100 mph velocity in his three innings of work. It’s evidence that he could be in the Majors at some point this year.

So the question changes from if Skenes will make the Opening Day team to: When will he be promoted?

“I have no idea,” Skenes answered with a chuckle. “Just wanna win games.”