Pumping triple digits, Skenes strikes out Holliday in battle of No. 1 picks

March 15th, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Round Two of the most anticipated prospect clash of the spring brought another successful showing for Paul Skenes against Jackson Holliday.

The first inning of Thursday night’s Spring Breakout exhibition between Orioles and Pirates prospects featured Holliday (MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect) stepping into the batter’s box at LECOM Park to face Skenes (No. 3 and the top pitching prospect). It was expected to be the marquee matchup of the prospect showcase since the inaugural event was announced.

After the game started with Skenes’ three-pitch strikeout of Enrique Bradfield Jr. (the O’s No. 6 prospect), Holliday (the No. 1 pick in the 2022 MLB Draft) went down swinging as well vs. Skenes (the '23 No. 1 Draft pick), striking out in a six-pitch at-bat that featured three 100-plus mph offerings. The Pirates' prospects topped the Orioles' farmhands, 3-1.

“That’s why we play the game, to have cool matchups like that,” Skenes said afterward.

“I think he was probably throwing like 110 [mph]. That’s what it looked like,” Holliday quipped. “Brought out a cutter. I got to see all of them this time. It’s a fun at-bat. I mean, good pitches get hitters out sometimes.”

The first meeting between Holliday and Skenes occurred Feb. 29 in the first inning of a Grapefruit League game between Baltimore and Pittsburgh at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. The encounter was brief, with Holliday grounding out to second base on Skenes’ second pitch.

While the 21-year-old Skenes will begin his first full professional season in the Minors, the 20-year-old Holliday is making a push to break camp with the Orioles. Holliday has impressed in Grapefruit play, going 10-for-34 (.294) with two doubles, two triples, one home run and five RBIs in 11 games.

Holliday is also proving he can handle second base in addition to his natural position of shortstop, where he started in Thursday’s Spring Breakout contest. The Stillwater (Okla.) High School alum will likely be at second for his MLB debut, which may occur Opening Day on March 28 vs. the Angels at Camden Yards.

Although Skenes won’t make the Pirates’ Opening Day roster, he could reach the Majors this year. The former LSU standout had a solid showing in his first big league camp, allowing one run and recording three strikeouts in three innings over two Grapefruit outings (one start).

Since Skenes only had a few months in the Pirates system last year and has spent his spring in Major League Spring Training, he hasn’t gotten a lot of opportunities to rub elbows with many of the organization’s top prospects. The Spring Breakout game was an opportunity for him to suit up with some of them for the first time.

“We were talking about it during the game,” Skenes said about his teammates. “We’re going to be good for a while, which is cool to see. The first wave of guys that are going to go up are going to be really good and then we have a stockpile of guys who are going to come up right after. I don’t think people realize how good we are. I don’t even know if we realize how good we are as a system. We’re excited.”

It’s unlikely Holliday and Skenes will face off in the regular season. The O’s travel to Pittsburgh for a three-game series from April 5-7, and barring a World Series matchup, the two teams won’t meet again until 2025. But with the more balanced schedule introduced by MLB last year, the Orioles and the Pirates will play every season.

So there should be plenty more rounds to come in this evolving battle of two future stars.

“I’m sure we’ll be facing each other a lot, right?” Holliday said. “Looking forward to it. Excited for him and the opportunity I’m sure that he’ll have this year. If he keeps throwing like that, it won’t be too long until he’s in the big leagues.”