PITTSBURGH -- Paul Skenes’ first professional season has come to a close.
The Pirates announced that Skenes won’t pitch again this season and they placed him on the development list Tuesday prior to their 7-3 loss to the Brewers at PNC Park.
“Our pitching and development group, as they would on most Mondays, assessed the week and planned ahead,” said general manager Ben Cherington. “As they got deeper into those conversations, they made the recommendation that … [Paul has] checked all the boxes that we wanted him to check post-Draft as a pro in 2023. They made the recommendation of, ‘Hey, this is good. We’re good for this year. Let’s focus on a full offseason and full 2024.’ We got that recommendation from them later last night and communicated with Paul today.”
As far as the specific boxes that Skenes checked off, Cherington said that list includes experiencing the routine, schedule and travel that comes with pro ball. Cherington added that Skenes worked on pitch design, tinkering with the shape of his breaking ball and emphasizing a two-seamer. Skenes will spend the remainder of the season with Double-A Altoona.
Between his time with LSU and the Pirates’ affiliates, Skenes threw 129 1/3 innings across 6 1/2 months, a total that Cherington described as “a high mark for any Minor League pitcher we’d have.” Looking ahead to 2024, Cherington said the team believes Skenes is physically equipped to handle the load of a full professional season.
On the television broadcast of Monday’s 4-2 win over the Brewers, Skenes described experiencing general fatigue as the season winds down, but he added that he feels fine overall. Cherington emphasized that Skenes is healthy and that health did not factor into the decision.
The development list was instituted in 2021 to help Major League organizations monitor Minor League prospects’ usage and development. It’s often implemented to help limit a pitcher’s pitch or innings count, while still allowing them to stay with their team, watch and continue learning.
Skenes, who signed for a record $9.2 million as the top pick in the MLB Draft, finished with five total appearances at three stops in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League, the Single-A Florida State League and the Double-A Eastern League. He threw 6 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on five hits, walking two and striking out 10.
All of those runs and both of those walks came in one outing, Skenes' Double-A debut on Aug. 26. He allowed just two hits in six scoreless innings, striking out 10, in his other four appearances. Skenes bounced back from his “rough” outing -- he wasn’t hit particularly hard and some felt he was working with a small strike zone – by tossing two scoreless frames and striking out three in what turned out to be his final start on Thursday.
Some were surprised Skenes pitched at all, with college pitchers often not ramping it back up after a long season and the Draft not taking place until the collegiate season was done. The Pirates found a balance of letting him dip his toes in professional waters while not overtaxing him and turning the page to next year could help him for what should be a quick ascent to Pittsburgh, with a big league debut in 2024 expected by many.
Considered by many evaluators to be the best college pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg, Skenes helped Louisiana State win the College World Series in 2023 and was a Golden Spikes Award finalist, finishing behind his teammate Dylan Crews, the second overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft. Skenes was initially slated to pitch on Thursday against Dylan Crews and the Harrisburg Senators, but that matchup will have to wait, at the minimum, another year.
“There are probably some fans in Altoona who will be upset that matchup will not happen now, but I'm sure we'll see him in the big leagues some day, and that will be exciting when it does happen there,” Cherington said. “We're going to trust the recommendation that was given to us.”
A former two-way player with tremendous power at the plate, a focus on pitching only when he transferred to LSU enabled Skenes to lead NCAA Division I pitchers in strikeouts (209, a school and SEC record), strikeouts per nine (15.3) and WHIP (0.75). He also ranked second in wins, ERA and opponents’ average, allowing him to earn SEC Pitcher of the Year honors and land in the top spot in the Draft. Skenes' accomplishments, polish and stuff all led to him debuting on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 at No. 3 overall.
“When you are [the first overall pick], there is a spotlight that gets put on you,” said manager Derek Shelton. “From the little bit of interactions I’ve had with him, you are talking about a really mature kid. I think that speaks to how he was brought up.”