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Road to The Show™: Pirates’ Skenes

No. 3 overall prospect displays dominance in first full season
Paul Skenes has not allowed a run through his first four starts with Triple-A Indianapolis. (George Gaza/
April 23, 2024

Each week, profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken toward achieving his Major League dream. Here's a look at top Pirates prospect Paul Skenes, who will be spotlighted each month as a Nationwide Road to The Show "featured player" in 2024. For more stories about players

Each week, profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken toward achieving his Major League dream. Here's a look at top Pirates prospect Paul Skenes, who will be spotlighted each month as a Nationwide Road to The Show "featured player" in 2024. For more stories about players on The Road to The Show, click here.

Just four outings into his first full season, Paul Skenes’ starts are already must-see television.

MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 overall prospect has yet to allow a run through his first 12 ⅔ innings for Triple-A Indianapolis while recording 27 strikeouts and yielding just five hits. Among all Minor League pitchers to complete at least 12 frames this season, Skenes’ 57.4 percent strikeout rate ranks at the top, and his 19.18 K/9 is tied for the most in the Minors.

The 6-foot-6 right-hander has also thrown four of the 10 fastest pitches tracked by Statcast in the Minors this season, topping out at 102.1 mph.

To go along with that 80-grade heater, Skenes also wields a 70-grade slider, which sits in the upper 80s and generated a 62 percent whiff rate in his final college season at Louisiana State last year. His fastball and slider were voted as the best fastball and secondary pitch in MLB Pipeline’s offseason executives poll.

Coming into the season, the only other pitch mentioned on Skenes’ scouting report was an above-average fading changeup, which hangs between 89-93 mph. It’s seems he’s since expanded his arsenal, adding a “splinker” with similar movement to his changeup but about 7 mph faster. He also throws a distinct curveball, his slowest offering, which features a steep vertical drop alongside some impressive horizontal movement.

Skenes’ inevitable call to The Show seems to be right around the corner. When he does receive that first Major League promotion, it’ll be another in a long list of accolades for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 Draft.

In his one season at LSU, Skenes won an NCAA Championship and the Dick Howser Trophy. He was named National Player of the Year by three different publications, a consensus First-Team All-American, College World Series Most Outstanding Player and the SEC Pitcher of the Year.

Before he transferred to Baton Rouge, Skenes made a name for himself as a two-way player at the Air Force Academy, where he was a First-Team All-American in each of his two seasons and the John Olerud Award winner, which goes to the best two-way player in the country, in 2022.

“Paul, as you get to know him … he’s got this thirst for getting better,” general manager Ben Cherington told after the Draft last year. “Not only willing, but wants to take on the challenge, whether that was going to Air Force Academy out of high school or transferring to the [SEC] for his Draft year. Whatever’s next, he’s going to want it.”

The Fullerton, California, native played three years of varsity ball at El Toro High School before committing to the Air Force Academy. During his sensational freshman season in 2021, he played 18 games as a catcher and two as a first baseman when he wasn’t pitching or penciled in the lineup as a designated hitter.

He appeared in 18 games as the team’s closer, tying a program record with 11 saves and compiling a 2.70 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 26 ⅔ innings. At the plate, he batted .410 with a 1.183 OPS, 32 extra-base hits and 43 RBIs. He was the only Division I player to record double-digit saves and homers, and was named a Golden Spikes semifinalist.

Skenes spent that summer with Wareham in the Cape Cod League but struggled to produce as both a hitter and pitcher, posting a 5.63 ERA in eight innings while going 2-for-14 at the plate.

He returned to form once he got back to Air Force and moved into the club’s rotation the following spring. Skenes went 10-3 with a 2.73 ERA and 96 strikeouts over 85 ⅔ innings in 15 starts. At the plate, he batted .314 with a 1.046 OPS, 13 homers and 38 RBIs.

Skenes entered the transfer portal after his sophomore season and joined an already stacked LSU squad. He moved to the mound full-time for the Tigers and put together one of the most successful seasons in college baseball history.

In addition to winning a national championship, Skenes tied a single-season conference record with 209 strikeouts while producing a 1.69 ERA in 122 ⅔ innings, issuing just 20 walks and holding opposing batters to a .165 batting average.

He won almost every national Player of the Year award but missed out on the Golden Spikes Award, which went to his LSU teammate, Dylan Crews, the eventual No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 Draft behind Skenes.

After being selected by the Pirates at No. 1 overall, Skenes signed an MLB record $9.2 million bonus, which was actually about $500,000 less than slot value. He first reported to the Rookie-level Florida Complex League and was promoted to Single-A Bradenton after just one start.

Skenes made two appearances for the Marauders, totaling three innings, before being promoted once again, this time bypassing a level and going to Double-A Altoona. His stint in the Eastern League was also short-lived. He made two appearances, allowing four runs in 2 ⅔ innings, before being shut down for the year.

Skenes’ first professional experience on the national stage came during a Spring Breakout matchup with the Orioles and No. 1 overall prospect Jackson Holliday. In his lone inning, he retired the side in order with a pair of whiffs, including a six-pitch strike out of Holliday in which he threw three 100-plus mph heaters.

So far this season for Indianapolis, Skenes has yet to go more than 3 ⅓ innings in a single start. The Pirates have shown, at the Major League level, an abundance of caution when it comes to their young pitchers’ workloads. And it shouldn’t be long before Skenes factors into that mix.

Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for