Am I allowed to copy/paste my column from last week, where I said that the Pittsburgh Pirates couldn’t pass on the chance to draft Paul Skenes?
I watched Skenes videos for a full day, along with watching interviews, including this fantastic interview with Rob Friedman. I did the same with the other top five guys, trying to replicate my post-draft scouting process ahead of time. At the end of the day, the Pirates aren’t correct for drafting Paul Skenes just because I agree with the pick. But after the selection, Skenes has shown exactly why he is the brand new pair of Air Jordans that will not be available next year, or possibly for years to come.
The big thing that stands out to me about Skenes is that he made rapid improvements to his game after moving to the mound. In my column last week, I mentioned how he’s the dream scenario for a prospect like Bubba Chandler. Skenes is a year older than Chandler, and this isn’t to say that Chandler should be where Skenes is right now. Instead, it’s a sign of how phenomenal the progression of Skenes has been in the one year moving from being a two-way player.
“If I were a two-way player, I know my body would not feel as good as it did throughout the year,” Skenes said of his junior year with LSU. “Two-waying kind of gets in the way of player development because you’re splitting your time and energy and focus. What you’re seeing at the big-league level with Shohei Ohtani is it’s very possible to be elite both ways, but I think it does take a lot of time, energy and effort to do so.”
Skenes saw rapid improvement to his pitching when he put his time, energy, and effort into improving. He’s a large pitcher, currently a little over 6′ 6″ and weighing 260 pounds. He’s got long limbs, and the rotation on his hips for pitching made it taxing to also hit.
“Going into the preseason, I was planning on hitting and pitching but quickly the priority became making sure I was healthy on the mound, 100 percent healthy on the mound to put us in position to win every Friday night,” said Skenes. “That was the mindset and it worked out. We won a national championship.”
Now, Skenes goes to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He didn’t find out he was the pick until 20 minutes before the selection was announced on TV, so he doesn’t have a lot of experience with the Pirates. His early reactions to the organization have been positive, noting a lot of first class individuals.
“I think the biggest thing for this was getting to a good organization, surrounding myself with good people and getting my foot in the door, professional baseball,” said Skenes. “As long as I do that, I’m gonna bet on myself and everything is gonna go as it should.”
Skenes is the type of guy you bet on. Aside from the stuff, he’s incredibly smart, driven, and always looking to learn more and improve himself.
“Baseball is an obsession for me to an extent,” said Skenes. “I want to get better at everything I can, no matter how much time and effort. I’ll go down a rabbit hole; sometimes, it might be wrong, but if it can help me get better I’ll do it. A lot of the stuff I do in terms of research and learning, I’m doing it on my own. I’m really excited to see what the organization has in professional baseball in terms of resources and research and data and all that that can help me get better and help the people around me get better as well to help us win.”
The obvious desire is to see Skenes pitch in Pittsburgh, which could be less than a year away. Pirates General Manager Ben Cherington didn’t have any concrete plans for Skenes yet, but expressed hope that he could pitch in 2023.
“Certainly anticipate and hope he’ll be ramping back up in 2023 and be able to pitch in baseball games in 2023,” said Cherington.
Let’s take a look one more time at the pitcher who is going to be filling PNC Park in the future.
Paul Skenes: The Stuff
Fastball (75): For so long, fastballs have been graded on simple velocity numbers. By those grades, the 98-101 MPH, touching 102-103, is elite. It’s 80 grade. It’s the fastball that you plan your week around, just to get a chance to see live so you can see for yourself how much quicker triple digits moves. The only present day issue are concerns that the pitch doesn’t move much, which means hitters at the plate might have an easier time picking it up. Skenes has already shown the ability to improve this pitch, and further improvements on the movement and command will make it that elite 80-grade pitch that everyone wishes they could see — including opposing batters.
Slider (70): The breaking pitch situation from Skenes is a bit confusing, and sounds like a work in progress that could lead to multiple pitches. We’ll call his best breaking pitch a slider, and say that it’s also got elite potential. The slider advanced in the last year, seeing a big tilt that turned it into a swing and miss pitch.
“What we saw mostly during the season was sweeper, slider and curveball,” said Cherington. “He also has a shorter slider, a gyro slider that he did throw some particularly late in the season a handful of times. So, there’s already three breaking balls there and all three of them, we project to be very good pitches at the professional level.”
Here’s where the scouting process can be confusing, even to the team drafting him.
Skenes developed his sweeper last summer and into the fall. He spent the fall trying to get the feel for the pitch. Meanwhile, his velocity was increasing on the fastball, his hand was speeding up, and he got a better feel for the breaking pitch. He does not, however, throw a gyro slider. That was a pitch he was playing around with, and eventually turned into a curveball. At this point, Skenes has the elite slider and a curveball that is so new, the Pirates think it’s two different pitches.
“Those are the two offspeed pitches that I have, just kind of a different shape with each of them,” said Skenes. “I think as I continue to develop and pitch and go on that track to the big leagues, I think that feel for those are just going to increase.”
Changeup (60): The thing which stood out to me in watching Skenes was his changeup grip. He throws a changeup with a split grip, getting wide spacing between his fingers. Skenes considers himself a changeup pitcher, throwing the pitch in high school when he wasn’t allowed to throw a slider.
“With our high school coach, that’s just how he ran the program, which I’m super grateful for because it made me develop feel for the changeup,” said Skenes. “Up till this year, I didn’t really have a very good slider and I didn’t know how to pitch on the slider. So, I was fastball changeup, mostly. So, I think I’ve always had pretty good feel for the changeup.”
That grip he has comes from fingers that are naturally far apart and can spread easily.
“It might be a byproduct of me throwing that changeup for so long, but I started doing that in high school,” said Skenes. “I threw it hard and it moved how I wanted it to so I kept throwing it. I’ve gotten a feel for it as I’ve gotten to college of getting my middle finger in and throwing it and controlling it and all that, and I just haven’t had to switch it up.”
Control (55+): The control from Skenes is one present day issue that stood out. Some of the swings and misses he got in college would not have been swings and misses in pro ball. Throwing triple digits with big breaking stuff is only effective if you can throw those pitches for strikes on command. As shown with Skenes, he’s a rapidly developing pitcher, and shouldn’t be seen as a final product here. In fact, his ability to rapidly change is why I think his control won’t be an issue. He’s already started a lot of physical and delivery development at LSU with pitching coach Wes Johnson.
“I think we saw a really good pitcher at the end of the College World Series who has all the weapons to go on and succeed in pro ball, but may still have more,” Cherington said. “I know he’s already thinking about that.”
While Skenes has spent a lot of time working on his delivery and his physicality, he hasn’t spent a lot of time digging into Rapsodo, Trackman, or other technology tools that can allow him further improvements.
“I’m actually really curious and really looking forward to how they use that stuff in professional baseball, with even more resources,” said Skenes.
Overall (65): Skenes has been called a generational talent, with some calling him the best pitcher in the draft since Stephen Strasburg. While those comparisons will hype up the fan base, they’re not one that Cherington would use.
“I will happily defer those tags to others outside the Pirates,” said Cherington. “He’s an incredibly talented, hard-working, disciplined, thoughtful, competitive, curious young man who happens to be 6-foot-6 and strong as an ox, throw the ball really hard and execute pitches. Put that all together and I understand where the comparisons happen and how people talk about him. We’re excited that he’s a Pirate. We obviously love the talent and the ability and what his future is but we’re really excited that Paul Skenes the person is going to be a Pirate also.”
Ultimately, Skenes has the upside to be a top of the rotation pitcher like Stwphen Strasburg, but that’s just an end result. His path to that outcome will be different. That path is so exciting not just because of the current pitches, but because of his drive to continue to improve, and the actual improvements he’s shown he can make.
“I think this guy is Paul Skenes,” said Cherington. “I think part of what drew us to him is he’s very focused on being the best version of Paul Skenes and he’s tackled everything that’s in front of him to do that.”+ posts
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.