Get to know MLB No. 1 pitching prospect Paul Skenes

May 17th, 2024

' Major League debut, which came less than a year after he was selected first overall by the Pirates in the 2023 Draft, showcased why he is the top pitching prospect in baseball.

The right-hander used his triple-digit fastball, mid-80s slider and electric splinker to strike out seven Cubs over four-plus innings. After his successful opening act, Skenes is set for his first road start in a rematch against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Friday.

Here’s everything you need to know about Skenes ahead of his second Major League game.

Position: RHP
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-6, 235 lbs.
B/T: Right/Right
DOB: May 29, 2002
College: Louisiana State
Previous college: Air Force
High school: El Toro HS (Calif.)
Born: Fullerton, Calif.
Prospect rank: Pirates No. 1 / MLB No. 3

He brought the heat in his big league debut

Skenes put himself into the Pirates' record books within the first inning of his big league career. His 101.9 mph four-seamer to the third batter he faced, Cody Bellinger, was the fastest by a Pittsburgh starter in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008). One inning later, he froze catcher Yan Gomes with a 101.2 mph fastball, the fastest pitch thrown by a Pirates starter for a strikeout since '08.

Skenes hit 100 mph on the radar gun 17 times during his debut, accounting for 20% of his pitches thrown. His four-seamer averaged 100.1 mph, the highest from any starting pitcher this season. Four of his seven K's came on the four-seamer, two came on his slider, and one came on his splinker, which produced seven whiffs on 12 swings.

However, it wasn't a flawless performance. Skenes struggled with his fastball command, which manager Derek Shelton chalked up to the right-hander being "a little bit over-amped" for his big day. Skenes allowed six hits, two walks and hit a batter before departing with no outs in the fifth. His line also looked worse once the Pirates' bullpen allowed both of the runners it inherited to score.

But that anticlimactic finish did little to dim the excitement for Skenes' future in the bigs.

He was the most overpowering pitcher in the Minors

In seven starts at Triple-A Indianapolis in 2024, Skenes had a 0.99 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings. He didn't allow his first run until his fifth start of the season.

In those seven starts, he threw 98 pitches 100 mph or harder -- the most of any pitcher at Triple-A or in the Major Leagues during that timeframe (A's closer Mason Miller had 97, and the next-closest Triple-A pitcher was Michel Otanez with 32, about one-third of Skenes' total).

Skenes racked up 19 strikeouts on triple-digit fastballs, by far the most at Triple-A (Justin Martinez was next with four) and also more than any Major Leaguer (Miller had 16). That included a K on his fastest pitch of the season, a 102.1 mph heater on April 18.

He was the best college pitching prospect since Strasburg

The Skenes hype train really started rolling as he entered the 2023 Draft. The 21-year-old was so dominant at LSU that Draft experts -- including MLB Pipeline's own Jim Callis -- called him the best college pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg. And Strasburg was the best college pitching prospect ever.

Strasburg's overpowering stuff at San Diego State -- in his junior year before the Draft, he showcased a 100 mph fastball and wipeout curveball while going 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 109 innings -- made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, and he lived up to every bit of the hype with the Nationals.

Skenes showed Strasburgian levels of dominance himself in his final collegiate season: He went 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA and 209 strikeouts in just 122 2/3 innings -- by far the most in NCAA Division I (the next-closest pitcher, Quinn Mathews, had 158, over 50 behind Skenes). And he featured a triple-digit fastball that touched 102 mph to go along with an almost equally nasty slider.

"For me, [Strasburg] is the best college pitcher I've ever seen, you know, until I saw Paul do what Paul did this year," LSU head coach Jay Johnson told Nationals blog Talk Nats.

He pitched LSU to the College World Series championship

The Tigers won the 2023 College World Series, and they couldn't have done it without Skenes, who was lights-out for LSU's entire tournament run and was named the College World Series' Most Outstanding Player.

In four starts -- all LSU wins -- Skenes allowed just four runs in 32 1/3 innings, a 1.11 ERA, and racked up 42 strikeouts.

Skenes started his tournament run with a 12-strikeout complete game against Tulane in the Regionals, and he capped it with an epic pitchers' duel against fellow top Draft prospect Rhett Lowder (No. 6 overall) in a winner-take-all game against top-ranked Wake Forest. Skenes delivered an eight-inning, two-hit, nine-strikeout scoreless performance to help send LSU to the College World Series finals.

He and Livvy Dunne are a power couple

Skenes is dating LSU gymnast and social media star Livvy Dunne ... and she's the big star of the relationship. Dunne, who won a national championship with the Tigers' gymnastics team in 2024, has more than 13 million combined followers on Instagram and TikTok.

Livvy is one of the most famous athletes in the country, and she's everywhere. She's had partnerships with brands like Vuori Clothing, American Eagle, Body Armor, Plant Fuel, Bartleby and more.

He and his LSU teammate made MLB Draft history

Skenes was drafted No. 1 overall by the Pirates in 2023 -- and right after him, his teammate, outfielder Dylan Crews, went No. 2 to the Nationals. The two Tigers made history as the first pair of teammates taken No. 1 and 2 overall in the MLB Draft.

The closest a college tandem came previously to going 1-2 in the Draft was UCLA's Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer in 2011, with Cole going No. 1 overall and Bauer going No. 3.

Crews and Skenes on the same team means the Tigers had the best position player and pitcher in the country in '23 -- no wonder they won the College World Series. Crews, a five-tool center fielder, is now ranked as MLB's No. 6 prospect overall, just a few spots behind Skenes.

He's got some Shohei Ohtani in him

Before Skenes was the top college pitcher in the nation, he was the top college two-way player in the nation.

In 2022 at Air Force, before he transferred to LSU, Skenes won the John Olerud Award as the best two-way player in college baseball.

Skenes was the only player in NCAA Division I to reach double-digit wins as a pitcher and double-digit home runs as a hitter in 2022. He went 10-3 with a 2.73 ERA and 96 strikeouts on the mound and batted .314 with 13 home runs at the plate.

Skenes didn't hit at all his last season at LSU since he was such an elite pitching prospect. But if he had entered the Draft as a hitter, he would have graded in the top three rounds -- potentially even as a first-rounder, according to some evaluators -- thanks to the huge all-fields power he showed as a righty slugger.

Ohtani was even an influence on his career

Now here's a fun fact: A 15-year-old Skenes was in attendance when Ohtani made his Angel Stadium pitching debut on April 8, 2018 -- and saw the two-way superstar take a perfect game into the seventh inning and finish with seven innings of one-hit, 12-strikeout baseball.

"He's really fun to watch," Skenes told Colorado Springs newspaper The Gazette when he was a two-way player at Air Force. "I'm grateful for what Shohei has done. For him to do that at the big league level has given flexibility at lower levels, such as the Minors and college.

"The thing I've learned most is it takes a lot of discipline, a lot of proactiveness, to be a two-way player at the college level. I couldn't even imagine right now what it would be like at the pro level."

He pitched like a college version of Jacob deGrom

Skenes became a deGrom-like power pitcher at LSU -- he blew hitters away with a deGrom-like fastball/slider combination.

Skenes' fastball is top-of-the-scale, with a perfect 80 grade from MLB Pipeline on the 20-80 scouting scale. His heater has it all -- not just the 100-plus mph velocity, but the carry through the zone that make it a "rising" fastball that hitters can't make contact with.

And under the tutelage of LSU pitching coach Wes Johnson, he turned his slider into an upper-80s beast that generates elite swing-and-miss numbers. When he throws the slider as a chase pitch, hitters can't lay off. The slider gets a 70 grade from MLB Pipeline, which makes it a plus-plus pitch in its own right.

His high school produces MLB superstars

Skenes attended El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif., which has two particularly notable alumni: current MLB star third basemen Nolan Arenado and Matt Chapman, who were teammates on the baseball team there.

Arenado was drafted by the Rockies straight out of El Toro, where he played shortstop, in the second round in 2009. Chapman wasn't drafted out of high school when he graduated in 2011, but he went from the third baseman at El Toro to Cal State Fullerton to a first-round Draft pick by the A's in 2014.

Skenes, though, is the first pitcher to make it to the Majors from El Toro.