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MX News Update 2024

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Top MLB pitcher Paul Skenes will debut for the Pirates on Saturday

Last season, as Paul Skenes tore through the SEC while helping the LSU Tigers to a College World Series title, a rival head coach noticed Skenes was out of place.

‘He’s pitching in the wrong league, I can tell you that. He has to play in the American or National League,” Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle said The Athletics‘s Brody Miller.

Schlossnagle also told Miller that Skenes was among the best three college pitchers he had seen, alongside Stephen Strasburg and Mark Prior. Both Strasburg and Prior made their long-awaited Major League debuts the calendar year after they were drafted. Skenes will be in that same company again.

The Pittsburgh Pirates announced Wednesday that Skenes will make his debut Saturday against the Chicago Cubs. It may be the most highly anticipated starting pitcher’s debut since Strasburg in June 2010.

Skenes’ rise from part-time reliever/catcher in the Air Force to a major league phenom has been as rapid as one of his 100-mph fastballs. After two years at the Air Force Academy, Skenes transferred to LSU, where he went 13-2 with a 1.69 ERA and 209 strikeouts in 122 2/3 innings while bringing the CWS Trophy back to Baton Rogue. After going first overall in last year’s MLB draft, Skenes made five brief appearances in the Pirates’ system, pitching 6 2/3 innings with a 5.40 ERA and a 10:2 K:BB. The Pirates knew they were getting a special player and person when they took him in the draft, but he exceeded those expectations in their early interactions with him.

“This is the most confident 21-year-old baseball player I’ve ever seen,” said John Baker, president of Pirates Farm. The Athletics last September.

Skenes started this spring as the No. 1 pitcher in baseball, according to The Athletics‘s Keith Law. There was some talk over the winter that Skenes might jump straight to the big leagues, but the Pirates quashed that idea when he made just two official appearances in Major League camp. But even as the regular season began with Skenes in Triple A, it seemed only a matter of time before he would play Major League rubber.

With every start he made, that expectation only grew. He didn’t allow a run until his fifth start. In his seventh start, he allowed his first home run. Even with those blemishes, he put up otherworldly numbers for Indianapolis – a 0.99 ERA and a 45:8 K:BB in 27 1/3 innings.

The numbers, of course, only tell part of the story of Skenes, who — like Prior and Strasburg before him — can make veteran hitters look like Little Leaguers with his combination of plus fastball velocity (he regularly breaks triple digits) and wipeout slider .

“(He) hides the ball extremely well behind his body thanks to a compact arm action, allowing him to get away with questionable fastball command and below-average field life,” Law noted in his top-100 prospect report from the preseason. “He offers a top ceiling, with size and arm strength that you can’t teach.”

Law also noted that Skenes should throw his alternate in the pros more often than he did in college and add a sinker, two boxes he checked during his minor league forays this spring. (He’s also thrown a splitter and the occasional curveball.) Triple-A hitters had no answer to this improved version of Skenes. They hit just .175 against him with four extra base hits. Now he gets the ultimate test in the big leagues.

Skenes joins an improving Pirates staff that already includes Mitch Keller and promising rookie Jared Jones, as well as second-year starter Quinn Priester. Top prospects Anthony Solometo and Bubba Chandler are currently in Double A and could join Pittsburgh’s staff as soon as next season.

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(Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)