Sporting apt tie, No. 1 pick Skenes signs with Bucs

July 18th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- Paul Skenes wandered the aisles of a Macy’s in Mission Viejo, California, looking for a tie to complement the suit he’d wear to his introductory press conference in Pittsburgh. He wanted a tie with a subtle splash of yellow, something Pirates-related. He couldn’t find exactly what he was looking for, but he uncovered something more appropriate: a solid black tie patterned with skulls and bones.

“To be honest, my mom had to talk me into buying it,” Skenes joked. “I was like, ‘I’m going to look like an idiot.’ I actually really like it.”

Skenes proudly rocked that department store brand tie as he officially signed with the Pirates for $9.2 million (slot value of $9,721,000), an amount that shatters the previous record of $8,416,300 that Spencer Torkelson received from the Tigers in 2020.

With pen put to paper, Skenes, a right-handed talent that many have dubbed as “generational,” officially becomes a member of the organization.

"It's funny looking at my journey to this point,” Skenes said. “As I try to look ahead to what the next couple years might look like, everything proceeded in a very logical manner. With me playing baseball with my dad in my backyard and wiffleball with my grandma, to playing travel ball, high school ball, going to the Air Force, going to LSU.

“Everything proceeded exactly how it had to for me to be in this position. It's kind of funny for us to look back on. I don't know if anyone can understand that other than my parents. Just grateful for that journey.”

The Pirates, too, share the excitement. Following two enticing seasons with Air Force, Skenes transferred to LSU and evolved from first-rounder to first overall pick. In 19 starts, Skenes had a 1.69 ERA with 209 strikeouts across 122 2/3 innings, earning a laundry list of awards and accolades as he led the Tigers to a national championship. Among those honors: National Player of the Year, National Pitcher of the Year, SEC Pitcher of the Year, First-Team All-American and Dick Howser Trophy Winner. 

It’s not uncommon for negotiations to last several weeks, but Skenes and the Pirates made things official well before the July 25th deadline. Skenes described the decision to sign as “pretty easy,” adding that he was comfortable with signing with Pittsburgh.

The record-breaking, nine-figure deal wasn’t the only reason that Skenes had an easy time signing with the club. Skenes said he was struck by how general manager Ben Cherington and the front office run the organization, as well as how various coaches go about player development. He added that he was drawn to how people in the organization care for the players not just as players, but as people. 

“Selfishly, I was really fired up that I was picked by the Pirates, first pick aside,” Skenes said. “[I] just can't wait to start the journey.”

With the paperwork finalized, the Pirates will now go about determining how much Skenes pitches for the remainder of the year.

Skenes handled a full season’s workload as a junior, throwing the second-most innings of any Division I pitcher (122 2/3). Across 19 starts, Skenes threw at least 100 pitches in 13 appearances, at least 110 pitches in seven appearances and at least 120 pitches in three appearances. 

Since the conclusion of the College World Series, Skenes has slowly gone about building back up, engaging in light catch, as well as strength and conditioning. Cherington said the team will evaluate Skenes in Florida to determine his physical status then make their determinations from there. Cherington added that, assuming there’s nothing unforeseen, the team expects Skenes to build back up towards competition this season.

Skenes’ professional career will begin with the Rookie-level Florida Complex League Pirates, but there’s no shortage of analysts who believe that the right-hander could pitch in the Major Leagues right now. Skenes assessed that his stuff -- an upper-90s fastball that tops out at 102, a biting mid-to-upper 80s slider and a power changeup -- is close to being Major League-ready. That said, Skenes emphasized the Major League game is completely different compared to college.

“He's been an exceptional achiever wherever he's been, and we expect that to continue,” Cherington said. “We're thrilled to start to work with him more personally now. We believe, based on what we know now, that he's got the combination of skills, competitiveness, ability to execute in competitive situations, critical situations, to move quickly through pro ball and be in the Major Leagues in the not-too distant future. But, we don't want to get into an exact timeline.”