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Pirates No. 1 Pick to Start Season in The Minor Leagues

Paul Skenes, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 June Amateur Draft, will start the 2024 season in the minor leagues. Pirates general manager Ben Cherington informed Skenes of the news on Tuesday morning.

Pirates No. 1 Pick to Start Season in The Minor Leagues

The news was not unexpected. Under Cherington, the Pirates have erred on the side of caution when deciding whether to promote prospects to the majors. Additionally, the 21-year-old right-hander has thrown only six-and-two-thirds innings of baseball at the professional level. It will be interesting to see whether Skenes begins the season at double-A or triple-A. He has yet to pitch at triple-A and was roughed up in one outing at double-A Altoona. As Skenes is to remain with the Pirates during spring training, one might think there’s still a slim possibility he could impress enough to make the team. However, this is unlikely, given how Cherington takes a long view and sticks to his plans.

Skenes’s College Career

Skenes began his collegiate career at Air Force in 2021. In two seasons, Skenes pitched 112-1/3 innings in 33 games and was 11-4 with a 2.72 ERA, a 1.148 WHIP, and 126 strikeouts. He blossomed when he transferred to Louisiana State University for the 2023 season. Leading the LSU Tigers to a College World Series championship in 19 games, Skenes was 13-2 with a 1.69 ERA, .750 WHIP, 209 strikeouts, and 20 walks in 122-2/3 innings. The increased workload had no adverse effects on his pitching at LSU.

At Air Force, Skenes also served as a catcher and designated hitter when he wasn’t pitching. While there, he hit .367/.453/.669 with 24 HR and 81 RBI in 100 games. Although he was strictly a pitcher at LSU, entering the draft, he fancied himself a two-way player in the majors. Skenes hinted as much after the Pirates drafted him, but that talk was quickly squelched. The 6-6, 235-pounder has too much potential and value as a pitcher. With a fastball that averages 98 mph and has hit 102, a sharp-breaking slider, and an evolving change-up, he’s thought to be the greatest pitching prospect since 2009. Any manager who lets him pick up a bat or don the tools of ignorance would be guilty of malpractice.

A Mildly Surprising Choice

The consensus No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft was Skenes’s teammate at LSU, center fielder Dylan Crews. It was a mild surprise when the Pirates went for Skenes and paid him a record $9.2 million bonus. Then again, in retrospect, it shouldn’t have been surprising given Cherington’s proclivity for piling up pitching prospects. It made sense, as the Pirates would never win a bidding war for a superstar free-agent pitcher. They need to draft and develop them themselves.

An Invitation to Spring Training

Skenes was among several non-roster invitees to the Pirates’ spring training camp. He did not disappoint in his two spring outings, which included a highly anticipated confrontation with the Baltimore Orioles’ Jackson Holliday, the No. 1 overall pick in 2022. In three innings so far this spring, Skenes has given up one run and three hits and struck out three. He looked dominant at times and again was clocked at 102 mph with the fastball.

The Last Word

Impatient Pirates fans won’t be pleased with the news that Skenes will start the year in the minors. However, Skenes may not be there long. Bet on a June callup to the big time.

Main Photo Credits: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports


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