Pirates to call up top pitching prospect Skenes

Pirates to call up top pitching prospect Skenes

The Pittsburgh Pirates are calling up star prospect Paul Skenes, and the hard-throwing right-hander is expected to debut Saturday at PNC Park against the Chicago Cubs.

Considered the best pitching talent in a generation, the 21-year-old Skenes will arrive in Pittsburgh after dominating Triple-A, allowing three earned runs in 27 1/3 innings and striking out 45 batters.

Following one of the finest seasons ever for a college pitcher, Skenes went to the Pirates with the No. 1 overall pick in the July 2023 draft and signed for $9.2 million, the largest bonus for an amateur in baseball history. Pittsburgh limited his workload after a taxing junior season at LSU in which he struck out 209 hitters and walked just 20 in 122 2/3 innings while going 13-2 with a 1.69 ERA.

While evaluators believed Skenes to be major league-ready when Pittsburgh drafted him, the Pirates entered 2024 wanting to build him up slowly and avoid a potential midseason pullback on his innings. By limiting Skenes’ pitch count in the minor leagues — he hasn’t thrown more than 75 pitches in a Triple-A start this year — the Pirates hope he can join a rotation that also includes hard-throwing rookie Jared Jones for the remainder of the season.

How to handle elite pitching prospects has long been a mystery for front offices, particularly with the proliferation of arm injuries to hard-throwing starters this season. The two closest facsimiles to Skenes in terms of college production and major league readiness were Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg and Chicago Cubs right-hander Mark Prior, both of whom were brilliant for flashes in the big leagues but ultimately had their careers shortened by arm injuries.

At 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, Skenes assumes the mantle as the hardest-throwing starter in the game — and perhaps the highest-velocity rotation piece in baseball history. At Triple-A Indianapolis, Skenes’ four-seam fastball has reached over 102.1 mph. He also mixed in a splinker — a combination splitter and sinker thrown by Minnesota Twins closer Jhoan Duran — at 95 mph, complemented it with a mid-to-high-80s slider, added a softer changeup that runs at 88 mph and occasionally turned to a slower curve.

While the Pirates currently occupy last place in the National League Central, it’s more due to their hitting than a strong set of arms. Few starters in the NL have been as impressive as the 22-year-old Jones, and with Skenes joining veterans Mitch Keller, Martin Perez and Bailey Falter, the Pirates now have arguably the best rotation in the division.