Waiting on Paul Skenes? Jared Jones Has Already Arrived

You already know about Pittsburgh Pirates' top prospect Paul Skenes, but on Saturday, it was Jared Jones who dazzled in his MLB debut.

Jared Jones of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches in his MLB debut in the first inning against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park.
MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 30: Jared Jones #37 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches in his MLB debut in the first inning against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on March 30, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Brennan Asplen/Getty Images)

It’s hard to view opening weekend 2024 as anything other than a resounding success for the Pittsburgh Pirates, especially for top pitching prospects Paul Skenes and Jared Jones.

The Pirates, locked and loaded with young talent, went into Miami and handled the Marlins with relative ease, sweeping the Fish in four games at loanDepot Park. If that’s not impressive enough, don’t forget the Marlins were a playoff team in 2023.

Statement made.

Yet, what we learned about Pittsburgh during its first four games of 2024 was more than just the team’s ability to get off to a fast start, which we also witnessed last season. These past few days have illustrated just how rapidly Skenes and Jones have emerged to become two of the most anticipated pitching prospects in the sport.

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Skenes is already a household name in baseball circles. In his first Triple-A start of 2024, Just Baseball’s No. 9 overall prospect (and the Pirates No. 1 prospect) mowed down his competition, paving what should be a short road to the majors. Perhaps he gets there as soon as this month.

It’s tantalizing to think about just how fast Skenes has progressed and how much he resembles a big league ace so early in his development. But I want to turn your attention to Jones, who crashed the big league party while Skenes was dominating Triple-A.

Jared Jones Had a Miami Moment

Jones, 22, came into the year as Just Baseball’s No. 44 prospect. He was called up from Triple-A to make his MLB debut against the Miami Marlins on Saturday, without having toed the rubber in the minors yet this season.

A second-round selection out of LSU in 2020, he did not disappoint.

The young right-hander twirled 5.2 innings of three-run baseball (nearly a quality start) in his first outing, striking out 10 hitters while walking just two. Those 10 punch-outs were the most in a Pirates pitching debut since the late Tim Wakefield back in 1992.

And the last NL pitcher to strike out 10 batters in his debut prior to Jones? Freddy Peralta of the Milwaukee Brewers, who did so in 2018.

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Even more impressive was Jones’ ability to miss bats at a high level. He recorded 22 whiffs against Marlins hitters, a testament to his 70-grade fastball and plus slider; Jones produced 11 whiffs on 26 fastball swings and 10 whiffs on 17 swings against his slider (per Alex Stumpf of MLB.com).

Overall, it was easy to see why the 22-year-old has catapulted up prospect rankings in recent years, even if his 3.85 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 26 games (25 starts) between Double-A and Triple-A in 2023 didn’t blow anyone out of the water.

Jones did manage to strike out 146 hitters in 126.1 innings pitched, however, flashing the upside he ultimately showed in his big league debut.

At the end of the day, Jones simply doesn’t possess the freakish physical traits of Paul Skenes, but regardless, it’s abundantly clear how talented he is. And that means he’s worth every bit of your attention, even as Skenes looms larger with each passing minor league start.

What Does the Future Hold for Jared Jones?

If Saturday was any indication, Jones could be a rotation fixture in Pittsburgh for years to come. The tandem of Jones and Skenes will undoubtedly become appointment viewing in short order.

Jones has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter, per our Aram Leighton, who wrote about the 22-year-old in January:

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“Pretty good command of two plus pitches that have both ticked up in 2023 helped Jones break out at the upper levels in his age-21 season. He will either need to develop plus command of his fastball and slider or see one of his changeup or curveball emerge as a viable offering to reach his No. 3 upside, but the young righty continues to trend in the right direction.”

Aram Leighton, Just Baseball

Of course, one of Jones’ key challenges moving forward will be adjusting to veteran hitters who will eventually become familiar with his offerings. The Marlins were the first team Jones faced at the big league level, and it showed throughout his start.

At the same time, however, Miami was a playoff team in 2023 (as I mentioned earlier), and that shouldn’t be discounted; Jones was facing one of the top six teams in the National League from a year ago.

Perhaps we should’ve foreseen Jones’ dominance. After all, he was lights out in 2024 Grapefruit League play, allowing no runs and striking out 15 batters across six games (three starts) and 16.1 total innings pitched. There is no need for hindsight, though, because we saw everything we could’ve anticipated (and more) from the 22-year-old in his big league debut.

Final Thoughts

If you’re waiting for the Pirates to promote Paul Skenes, we don’t blame you. He may just be the most charged-up pitching prospect we’ve witnessed since Stephen Strasburg (coincidentally, Strasburg’s debut came against Pittsburgh in 2010).

Don’t disregard Jared Jones as a mere afterthought, though. Otherwise, you might just miss the breadth of his talent, which was on full display in Miami. The Skenes hype train is worth boarding, but it’s time to give Jones his flowers, too.

In further praise of the Pirates’ deep prospect pipeline, Jones is merely the first in a lengthy line of Pirates’ pitching prospects that could debut in the next year or two, including (but not limited to) Skenes, Bubba Chandler, Anthony Solometo, Jun-Seok Shim, Thomas Harrington, Braxton Ashcraft and Michael Burrows.

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Here’s hoping Skenes and Jared Jones only represent the beginning of a new and exciting brand of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball.