Top prospect Skenes reflects on first months as pro

September 9th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Justice delos Santos’ Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Paul Skenes won’t pitch in another game this season, the Pirates announced earlier this week. When Skenes toes the rubber again, he hopes it will be for the black and gold. 

"My goal is tomorrow,” Skenes said with a smile, “but that’s not going to happen. I want to get there as soon as possible. That’s why this offseason is so important, to prepare myself physically and mentally [for] that challenge. I want to win at the highest level. … I feel -- and I think a lot of people feel -- that we have an opportunity to win very soon. If I can contribute to that Opening Day, I want to do that.”

Whether Skenes, who hasn’t even pitched 10 professional innings after being selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 Draft, suits up for the Pirates in Miami on March 28, 2024, for Opening Day, remains to be seen. For now, Pittsburgh’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline can only ruminate on what was, and work towards what will be. 

In five total appearances across three levels, Skenes allowed four earned runs -- all of which came in his Double-A debut -- in 6 2/3 innings, with 10 strikeouts to two walks. Skenes was never going to take on a large workload after throwing 122 2/3 innings at LSU this past season, but those five starts provided the 21-year-old with an opportunity to learn the ebb and flow of a professional’s schedule. Roughly two months into his professional career, Skenes assessed that pro ball is “definitely more of a grind.” 

“You’re doing it so much,” Skenes said. “You’re not doing anything but baseball, which is good and bad. That’s something that I’m just gonna have to learn and adapt to in the future also. [The amount of] support and resources and all that we have, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I’ve been really happy with that and really excited to go forward with it, really look into everything that the Pirates have to offer for resources.”

Skenes’ day-to-day schedule isn’t the only thing that’s changed since entering pro ball. At LSU, Skenes primarily relied on a high-velocity four-seam fastball and biting slider. In the Minors, Skenes has thrown his sinker and changeup more frequently. Skenes hasn’t altered the shape of either pitch, but observed that his sinker, in particular, generated more dive as a result of him throwing the pitch more frequently.

“I felt and we felt they were good pitches and we should throw them more,” Skenes said. “Having better hitters and hitters with better plans are gonna give us an opportunity to throw them more.”

Added Altoona manager Callix Crabbe: “The ability to make [the sinker] move in on the righties if they’re looking for just something four-seam … was really cool to see. Then, the changeup, it’s like a perfect blend of that pitch as well.”

In his brief time as a professional, Skenes hasn’t impressed solely as a pitcher, but as a person, too. 

Pirates manager Derek Shelton lauded Skenes' maturity, citing his upbringing and time at Air Force. Crabbe recalled that Skenes supported his teammates from the dugout’s top step immediately after being pulled from his first start at Double-A, a disappointing outing in which he recorded two outs and allowed four earned runs. Bubba Chandler, the Pirates’ No. 7 prospect who was recently promoted to Altoona, described Skenes as a “good dude” and “hard worker.”

“He’s big as hell,” Chandler said. “God. He’s pumped up. That guy is going to be a horse for many years to come in Pittsburgh. … I’ve had a few conversations with him. He’s done it and he knows how to do it, and he’s only a year older than me. I want to learn from him and I want to be up there with him. I don’t want to compare myself to him, but I want to be a guy when people say, ‘Paul Skenes, he’s got some help.’”

“For them, they saw him on TV,” Crabbe said. “So, getting to see the person in real time is probably a fun thing as well. He’s not Superman. He’s a normal dude who plays the game just like they do.”