Williams: Paul Skenes Has the Ever-Important Major League Attitude

I had to do a double-take after the 2023 MLB draft.

Over at MLB.com, Jessica Camerato had a great article during the All-Star break. She asked MLB All-Stars if they thought first overall pick Paul Skenes could get MLB players out today. Featured in the article, you’ll find Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman, Orioles outfielder Austin Hays, and Dodgers catcher Will Smith, amongst others, giving praise to the stuff from the LSU right-hander.

I have seen a few of these types of post-draft articles over the years. Each time, my thought was a disappointing “How do the Pirates never get a chance to land that type of player?” And I had to do a double-take this time, because this time at the All-Star game, non-Pirates reporters were asking non-Pirates players about the talent level of the latest Pirates draft pick.

Baseball America has already updated their top 100. Skenes is rated sixth overall, and is the top pitching prospect in the entire game. The Pirates were choosing between Skenes, Dylan Crews (4th overall), Wyatt Langford (11th), Walker Jenkins (19th), and Max Clark (22nd).

I don’t think the Pirates could have gone wrong if they took Crews. The same with Langford. I do think Jenkins and Clark would have been disappointing with the top-end talent on the board. As I wrote last week, my belief was the Pirates couldn’t pass on the chance to draft Paul Skenes.

And they didn’t.


I’ve been covering the MLB Draft for this site for 15 years. The first draft was covered on the site’s Twitter account. At the time, I was doing what a dozen people are doing on Twitter today: Rapidly searching for information on every new draft pick the moment we learn about them.

For most of those the years covering the draft, I would cover every player from the start of their pro career through their completed time with the Pirates. Months after he signed, but before he pitched in a pro game, I was interviewing Gerrit Cole by a washing machine at Pirate City. I had years of covering the development of Jameson Taillon. Both were first round pitchers, and considered elite among their classes.

What I can tell you from following those two pitchers, along with every other draft prospect that comes through, is that we don’t fully understand the grading system for the MLB Draft. I’m saying that as an industry, mostly from the outside, but maybe from the inside for some teams.

Paul Skenes was the best choice for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

We can talk about his future grades all day, but that’s the problem. Prior to the draft, Baseball America was one of many outlets giving Skenes a 65/High grade. This grade is meant to project his future. Skenes and Crews were the only 65-grade guys, which means they project to eventually be two of the best players in the game. The “High” is the risk level, meaning this isn’t a slam dunk. Langford and the prep outfielders project at 60/High, which is a half-step below, with the same risk.

Isolating Skenes and Crews, we could just say they’re 1A and 1B of this draft, due to their projected final grade. The flaw in the MLB draft is that we give way too much credit to future projections in a world where not a single person can accurately predict the future.

The question we don’t ask enough: How good is this player today?

Paul Skenes just got reviewed by MLB players who watched him. If you read between the lines of that article, you will find that Yes, Skenes can get MLB hitters out today.

But what does that mean?

Last Saturday night, Carlos Santana ripped a two-RBI single off Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Justin Martinez, who was making his MLB debut.

Santana is a veteran, at 37 years old, though not exactly the biggest threat at the plate these days. He’s got a .701 OPS on the season, which is down from the .800+ seasons of his past. Still, he can focus in and make even the hardest rookie pay in a big moment. On this night, Santana and Jack Suwinski were responsible for bouncing Martinez with two runs in a single inning. Martinez is back down in Triple-A, in his age 21 season, with a triple-digit fastball, a plus splitter, and fringe-command.

Still, he got three MLB hitters out.

Paul Skenes could get MLB hitters out today, I’m sure. He’s got a fastball that can hit triple-digits, a slider that grades plus, a changeup he’s comfortable with that could be an out pitch — and while he has some present day concerns over his stuff (not to the low extent of Martinez’s control), his arsenal leaves a lot of room for error.

Skenes might be a 65-grade player in the future. That’s a dream.

The Pirates drafted a present day 40-grade player who they hope to develop into a starter.

Eventually, the only way that starter would ever reach the mythical 65-grade would be to get there with MLB experience.


“I was genuinely excited that we got the number one pick. I think anytime you get it, just because number one, you know, you’re getting the opportunity to take one of the best players in the country.” – Pittsburgh Pirates manager, Derek Shelton

There have been several drafts over the years where the Pirates have gone the “signability” route in round one.

This approach takes a lesser talent in the first round, so that the team can add more upside in the later rounds. When I say “lesser talent”, I don’t mean the future grade. Typically, the future grades are seen very similar, and it’s a bit of a mystery why a team would pass on one 60-grade guy for another and say they’re different. We’re overlooking the present day grades, and the fact that most players aren’t like Skenes with a an arguable 40-grade in the present on draft day. That’s an MLB middle reliever. That’s not what you want long-term from the first overall pick, obviously. That’s just where he is starting his career, without a single day of development.

As the first ever MLB Draft Lottery concluded with the Pirates receiving the first overall pick, members of the organization were shown celebrating.

The celebration drew the typical backlash from those who feel the Pirates should be stoic until they are successful. But following two bad seasons, this was one of the rare moments to celebrate. The Pirates landed the opportunity to take the best player in the draft. Or, they could bank the money and spread it around.

In my view, they took the best present day player who also has the best upside. There is less development involved to get Skenes to a starting role in the majors, and he has what it takes to develop higher than that.

A few weeks prior to the draft, I spoke with Pirates manager Derek Shelton, who was in the room during the lottery. Shelton’s reaction was one of the most subdued in the room, and he’s definitely not thinking about future first picks in a positive light now.

“From my vantage point, I want to be out of that conversation,” said Shelton when I spoke with him in Miami. “Because the reason we’re in that conversation is because what our record was. The excitement of having it, yeah, I’m excited we have it, but my goal is to move forward when we’re drafting later and later and making it harder for our scouting guys.”

Shelton currently has the assignment of winning with a Pirates roster filled with 40-45+ grade guys. The hope is that enough of them develop into starters in the majors (50+ grade). In his third full MLB season, Mitch Keller is starting to emerge as a top of the rotation starter. You could argue that in the last two years, Keller was a present day 45-50 grade pitcher, trending up. At this point, he’s looking like he took a big step forward into the 55-60 grade range, present day. Pitching coach Oscar Marin should get a big credit for this development.

That’s what you eventually want from Skenes. You want to see him reach the majors and progress into an All-Star and a leader of this rotation. His stuff might allow for a quicker progression than Keller, but Keller is a reminder that Skenes won’t be a top of the rotation starter immediately.

That future grade is still a dream. Skenes won’t arrive today and make the Pirates winners. Instead, the Pirates have the responsibility to make the dream come true.


What is development?

Paul Skenes is a present-day 40-grade pitcher. He’s got concerns with his fastball location and shape, due to pitching against the equivalent of High-A hitters in college and being able to get away with bad pitches that benefitted from bad swings.

If Skenes does not develop at all, for some reason, he would still end up a very expensive power reliever. This would obviously be a disappointing outcome, but it’s extremely unlikely.

His fastball is 98+, consistently hitting triple digits. That’s improved in each of the last two years. He could improve on getting it across the plate more often, ideally with more movement to add some deception. His slider added 11 inches of movement after changes to his approach last year. His changeup has success because he figured out how to pronate his thumb while throwing it with a ridiculous split finger grip that has come natural to him since high school.

Skenes has three pitches that can be plus-to-elite, all showing improvements, with a personality that suggests the attitude for future improvements. Plus, he’s dominated his current level of competition to historical proportions, which is a very talented college conference.

Due to the current pitches, and the person himself, Skenes is a present-day 40-grade guy, and the Pirates will ideally develop him into a 50-grade starter before he reaches the big leagues for good. Skenes already laid out what he knows he needs to work on, following the selection.

“I think the biggest difference between college and the big leagues, probably with my stuff, is making 30 starts a year in a five-day window every time versus 18 or 19 starts in a seven-day window,” said Skenes. “That’s going to be something that I’m going to have to focus on, making that adjustment, then focusing on longevity, to be able to do that for 10-15 years at a time down the road.”

That last part is essential. The Pirates aren’t drafting Skenes for 2023 help, even if he could do that. They’re drafting him for help in 2024. And 2025. 2026. Also, 2027. And 2028. There’s 2029. And I’d project free agency at 2030, unless the Pirates extend him. That’s looking way to the future, and as Drake once said, “You can’t bring the future back.”

So, what does Skenes need to do in the present to get to the future we all hope? Besides getting used to a five-day schedule?

“I think [the schedule] is what I need to do to be able to maintain my stuff for as long as possible down the road,” said Skenes. “Then a lot of little stuff, pitch-design stuff that I think is going to help get hitters out more effectively.”

I’m less concerned with Skenes developing further, because he already knows what he has to work on, and how he can improve. He’s shown that he can walk a path of improvement from Point A to Point B. At the end of the day, a development team can’t do a single thing with a person who isn’t honest with themselves about both maximizing their real strengths, but also addressing their real flaws.

The Pirates spent the rest of their draft adding a lot of other pitchers from the SEC. Most of those pitchers are present-day 20-grade guys. Maybe some are a bit higher. None grade higher than 45-grade in the future. Some have plus stuff and no control. Some have control and poor stuff. Unlike Skenes, I haven’t followed many of those players enough to know if they have the Major League attitude he has.

In my time covering this game, I can say one thing conclusively: Skills do not make Major Leaguers. They can get a person to the Major Leagues, but without the Major League attitude, that person will not remain.

The Major League attitude is simply the combination of Accountability and Adaptability.

Knowing who you are and knowing how to change in an ever-changing game.

Compared to a triple-digit fastball and a big breaking slider, these seem like small details. It’s often the small details that matter most.

At the risk of sounding like Kevin from The Office, and making this all about the cookie, I’m going to go back to those Air Jordan 38s I talked about last week.

These shoes have a similar colorway as the Air Jordan 37s. On the surface, to the average person, these shoes might look the same. Sneaker-heads might grade the style of the 38s higher, noticing the fine details that most will gloss over. For me, this sneaker is all about one tiny detail that is hidden away:

It’s a symbol of the real dream that everyone on every sporting surface is chasing.

It’s a symbol that is already stitched into this sneaker. And, no, I am still not talking about shoes here.

The Pirates moved closer to a championship ring in the future when they drafted Paul Skenes.

As for his teammates, including potential members from the rest of the 2023 draft, we’ll have to wait and see what kind of designs Pirates’ farm director John Baker and his team can create with some gold string and a sewing kit.

+ 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.

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Keep bringing in the pitcher, Pirates. First time in a long time they didn’t take an outfielder. The minor league must have the same philosophy, swing the same way with bases empty and not being able to control their swing. The milb for the buccos went 5for51 with men on base. But, keep taking them pitchers. What is Skenes going to do when he doesn’t get the runs he got in college. I don’t care how good your pitching is, if you can’t score runs, you can’t win.


Based on this write up Skenes will be lucky to get to the bits in three years. If that is the case then maybe Meuth will beat him there.


If he don’t get TJ Sugery first.


Holdermann couldnt stay in the zone, wouldve liked the chance to see hank shoot him at home but dont know that his misplay really makes a difference or not


Holderman really has turned into a pumpkin. Too bad, thought we had ourselves a solid 8th inning guy.


Yeah hopefully it’s injury related but man he’s not looked good. And hedges is just awful can’t catch the ball terrible throws throws to second. The guy is just plan bad.


Hoping its a blip, but definitely agree. Felt like we had the beginning of a 2014 esque pen with the back end shortening every game


Gameday thread or naw? Either way, this is my first 2 min of an apple tv broadcast and i hate it


Termarr is 3 for 3 with a walk and a homer. Not a great outing for harrington, but plenty of K. Andujar keeps raking

Scam likely

Do you think Paul Skenes will win the paul Skenes award after they rename it after him?


Like ever top stud pitcher that comes out he’ll have to learn to deal with actual baserunners because, unlike college, virtually no one got a hit off him. That means he’ll have to adjust to pitching out of the stretch. It will be up to the developmental staff to help him with this.


He has a fantastic pick off move


And pick up move. Dude rakes with honeys.


This was probably the best article I’ve read on this site. People assume that Skenes is going to come in, start next year, and become an all-star almost immediately. Just like with all pitchers, there will be bumps in the road. The biggest difference I see with Skenes and other pitchers, is that I think he has the attitude to make that adjustment quicker, to be able to adapt his game to the ever-changing environment. This is probably the closest you can get to the draft in picking a true winner and I’m extremely glad the Pirates took that risk with him.


This was really his first year focusing on pitching and learning how to pitch. He is still experimenting with a grip and practicing a curveball. It is impossible to judge the potential of his changeup because it comes in at 91-92 MPH, which he could rarely throw to college batters, because this was the fastball speed to which they were accustomed. So, he rarely used his changeup and didn’t have much opportunity to practice. What he is now is a guy with almost picture-perfect mechanics and a fastball and slider that he has mastered. There is no saying what he could be. He could be the greatest pitcher any of us have ever seen. I think he may be that good.

Rob Baran

Yeah – I don’t think he has a ceiling either. At least if he stays healthy. I surely don’t expect a Hall Of Famer type career, but that’s certainly possible IMO.


If you knew skenes, you would know he wasn’t allowed to throw anything but a fastball and changeup until he reached college. His changeup is good.

Rob Baran

I can’t believe all the Analysts that don’t see it as a future 60 type offering. Nice to see that BA is one that does though. That thing has 70 grade potential IMO. His own unique version of a Split-Change.


Catchers are just natural pitching coaches from the day they put the pads on. They work with pitchers every day telling them how their stuff is breaking, how they can be more efficient, how to adjust their velocity, their motion, their release points, etc. He’s unique in that he has already been that player in HS and college – sharing his knowledge with other pitchers.

Not sure if the Pirates allow Skenes to sit until next year, or give him a cameo in the Arizona Fall League. He has already rested his arm since the end of the CWS. I think he needs possibly another month of relatively down time, and then start prepping for the AFL.

Rob Baran

I’d prefer he start at the Complex, then move to Altoona sometime in August. Finish out the year in the AFL.

Of course – I’m closely monitoring his health electronically every moment he’s on the mound – and limiting his pitch count.


I’d rather him pitch now and then take off the AFL to start getting on the “Pirates strength and conditioning program” I dont want him pitching into his offseason


Yep, that was another thing he talked about in the interview Tim linked to. He developed his changeup simply because he was not allowed to throw sliders etc and he feels pretty comfortable with it.

Last edited 2 months ago by john_fluharty

and its an above average pitch already, not a work in progress.


Your first sentence really captures just how talented this kid is. In his first year focusing on pitching – BOOM, he’s the best one in college baseball. They have little enough time to develop much in the shorter season, and he was splitting his time. I am reallty excited in seeing what he can become over the next couple years with all the time he’ll have to improve himself little by lttle, day by day. The best in MLB? We’ll see.

Last edited 2 months ago by john_fluharty

I forgot to mention that he has also been working on a 2-seam fastball to get a fastball with some movement. Again… it is really hard to say how good he can be if he masters more than 2 pitches.


The best part is he has Keller to learn from. As Keller found out, great stuff can’t be dominate if it’s predictable & misses location in & out of the zone.
Now get Keller extended.


every pitcher should have a 2-seamer


Don’t you think that if a sport writer had asked some all-star major league pitchers whether they believe they could get Crews out they would have said virtually the same kind of thing praising his skills and likely future?

Skenes is the best pick for the Pirates for only one reason, they drafted him #1 . If Crews had been the pick everyone would be talking about why he was the best choice. None of that matters anymore. For now let’s just imagine and hope Skenes wins a couple of Cy Young awards in the next five years.

Crews, Skenes and the rest of the players drafted will eventually determine through their play who the best major league player will be and 5-7 years from now some blogger or baseball writer will “redraft” the 2023 draft based on performance instead of projections. Even then there will probably be disagreements. I just hope Skenes remains in the discussion for the top spot when that happens.


Analysis without hyperbole!


Pitching vs hitting…a never ending game of cat and mouse.

You’re spot on Tim about the major league attitude. It’s also been called mind over matter, the will to win, never say die attitude, and undoubtedly many more that I’m not recalling at this moment.

The baseball player who might have best exemplified this trait in our lifetimes is Derek Jeter. Certainly not the best at any physical talent compared to his peers, but he was exceptional when it mattered most. No one play exemplifies this better than the time he raced from SS to past the 1B line near home plate to retrieve a poor throw from RF and then flip a perfect backhander to Posada just in time for him to swipe tag Giambi out at home plate preserving a 1-0 playoff win.

I’m sure there are dozens of SS’s who had the athletic ability to make that play, but I’ll never be convinced there was another one who had the major league attitude to make that play.

Let’s hope Skenes has that type of major league attitude. If so, we’re going to be raising more than just Jolly Rogers in Pittsburgh, we’ll be raising banners, too!


That Jeter play was baseball “instincts”, not attitude.

Being able to read a play before or while it’s happening is something that can’t be taught.

Some are born with it, and that’s what separates the good from the great.

John Dreker

Actually Jeter claimed that it was taught. Don Zimmer had him practicing that particular play in case it ever came up, so by the time it actually came up, it was just instincts and plenty of practice kicking in. That’s from Jeter. He didn’t think the play was a big deal because he was where he was supposed to be on the play.

He actually claimed that his “diving” catch into the stands was a much better play, though I believe that’s the most overrated play in baseball history. Pokey Reese made a better catch going into the stands in that same game. Jeter just made a running catch with a bad finish. He was actually still one foot in fair territory when he caught it, no idea how the play has been dubbed “the dive”. Even the Michael Kay call shows how much it was overblown. He’s all subdued with the call until Jeter can’t stick the finish, then he goes nuts. They used to show plays like that on This Week in Baseball bloopers all of the time, yet Jeter gets hero status for thinking he can Superman into a chair and be okay


Not with one pitcher you won’t. The example you use was an everyday player not a once a week pitcher. The teams who were as bad as the Pirates 2-3 years ago (AZ, Baltimore, Texas) are all now winning because of their offense. It’s gonna take many more high level players and especially hitters who can score and drive in runs for the Pirates to become a winning team. Skenes can be a part of that but only if the Pirates build an offensive team around him.


In today’s baseball you need both hitting and pitching to succeed. You especially need pitching in the playoffs to be successful. Both Arizona and Texas have had as much success with their pitching as their hitting. Texas brought in Eovaldi and Degrom (who is hurt now) as well as gray last year. They have been really good this year as has Dunning coming into his own. Arizona just had Zac Gallen start the all-star game. Merrill Kelly has been good as well. their bullpen has been really good as well. Granted Baltimore has been more about the offense. We’ll see in the playoffs, when pitching becomes so important.


“The teams who were as bad as the Pirates 2-3 years ago (AZ, Baltimore, Texas) are all now winning because of their offense.” – and they’ll never win a championship that way, they’ll enjoy their wild card and come across someone Skenes-like or someone having a career day, and they go home. Good pitching always wins. Having a 1-2-3 Of SKenes, Keller, Bubaker isn’t a bad start. Throw a vet in at 4, and a rookis/2nd year guy at 5, with 3 solid depth options behind them, and guess what, you have a winning team that is anchored by Brey, Cruz, and Jack with Hank coming up behind.


I’m an old guy, but, I’ll take my $70 Rockport Pro Walkers every time. Pletny of comfort, not making a statement. LOL

Last edited 2 months ago by tventimiglio

Once I realized that Jordans didn’t lead to my 5’10 ass dunking I gave up on them. Now if John Stockton had a 38. I’d head to the park and start dishing.


I’ll see your Rockport Walkers and raise you my $75 Sketchers Slip-Ins.

Last edited 2 months ago by skliesen

I’ll just keep on with my $20 walmart shoes lol.


I’ve been wearing Dad shoes for 2 decades.


Thanks, Tim . . . like great wine, you continue to improve with age.


You make a great point. As a long-time reader, it’s been fun to watch Tim really finding his voice as a writer.

Last edited 2 months ago by john_fluharty

Think there’s any truth to the “leaks” that Crews would have returned to LSU rather than signing if drafted by the Pirates? Or is this just Boras trampling in the vintage where the sour grapes are stored?


Missed this: where was this posted?


It was an ESPN tweet in a discussion shared by Hullihen. Sounded like more speculation than actual sourced reporting but it fed the “Nutting is cheap” narrative and fit Boras’ style.


The world needs more “Skenes” and less “Boras”.




I know the game has changed but tell me Skenes has that edge, that hint of meanness that he will take out on hitters who crowd the plate. Tell me there’s a little Drysdale and a lot of Gibson in him that will make hitters think twice before digging in. I want to see Anthony Rizzo crowd the plate against him and I want him moved, with vigor, off the plate. I want to see Skenes put hitters butts in the dirt and then break their wills with that slider.

Just tell me he ain’t no Kip Wells.


During that super-long intervie you linked, he complained more than once about not being able to pitch inside enough in college. I think we’ll see him try to solve that problem as a pro.

Pirates Prospects Daily


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