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Williams: The Early Results From the Pittsburgh Pirates 2023 Draft

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The Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t pass on the chance to draft Paul Skenes.

Less than one year ago, the Pirates had the first overall pick in a draft loaded with talent at the top described as “generational”. There wasn’t a consensus number one pick on draft day, with Skenes and LSU teammate Dylan Crews leading a group of five potential picks at the top. The Pirates previously had the first overall pick in 2021, and went with a strategy of taking a more signable player with that selection, saving money for prep players in the middle rounds.

The 2023 draft class was much different than 2021. As I wrote ahead of the 2023 draft, the Pirates had the opportunity to take a generational pitcher like they’ve never seen or had a chance to draft in Pittsburgh. Their chances of replicating a Crews-type outfielder would be easier than their chances of replicating a Skenes-type pitcher.

We’re seeing this in 2024. The Pirates could trade prospects to get multiple years of a power hitting center fielder like Luis Robert, but what are the odds they could trade the same prospect package for a top of the rotation starter?

The Pirates made the right move in drafting Skenes first overall. They followed that pick with a very pitcher-heavy draft, loading up on college arms who had good stuff, but lacked experience in a lot of cases.

The early result of the 2023 draft is that the Pirates landed their generational talent first overall, while also collecting a group of players who they could develop for more MLB talent.

Head of the Class

Paul Skenes so far looks like the real deal.

One year ago, he was pitching LSU to a National Championship. This year, he’s already in the majors. Skenes has a 2.43 ERA in 33.1 innings across his first six MLB starts. He’s struck out 35.4% of hitters, with just a 4.6% walk rate.

The highlight from Skenes is his ability to sit 99 MPH with his fastball, routinely hitting triple digits. He’s added a splinker in pro ball, which is a combination of a splitter and a sinker. The pitch sits mid-90s with 30 inches of vertical drop. It looks like a fastball out of the hand, then turns into a breaking pitch at the last second. Skenes also throws a sweeping slider and a lower 80s curveball, which are both swing and miss offerings. In addition to all of this, he’s worked with a more normal upper 80s changeup.

The arsenal from Skenes is elite. Hitters need to either choose between the triple digit fastball that travels on a more horizontal angle from an easy three-quarters release point; or, they need to try their luck against one of his three big breaking pitches with more vertical drop. Even when he’s missing one or two of his pitches on a given night, he still has better stuff than most pitchers in the league.

On top of the stuff, Skenes has an advanced competitive drive. He’s never knocked off his game, and away from the mound he’s always looking to improve. He’s shown the ability to rapidly improve his game, both in college and pro ball. He can also handle the pressure of being one of the faces of the game, and all of the national attention that comes with this role.

Skenes looks like a true generational pitcher. The Pirates haven’t had a pitcher like him since Gerrit Cole or Doug Drabek. Cole didn’t consistently look like an elite starter in Pittsburgh, and it’s very likely that Skenes advances beyond Drabek’s production to become one of the best Pirates pitchers in at least half a century — if not one of the franchise’s best all time.

The Pirates made the right pick to start the 2023 draft class.

Early Standouts

Zander Mueth, RHP –

The rest of this post is for Pirates Prospects subscribers!

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
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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