Top Prospect Paul Skenes Shows Promise in Pirates Debut

Star pitching prospect Paul Skenes made his hotly anticipated MLB debut as the Pirates took on the Cubs at PNC Park on Saturday afternoon.

Paul Skenes of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the third inning of his major league debut during the game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park.
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 11: Paul Skenes #30 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the third inning of his major league debut during the game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on May 11, 2024 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

Paul Skenes has arrived.

Ever since spring training, fans have been eagerly awaiting the moment when the Pittsburgh Pirates would call up their top prospect. Skenes has spent the past six weeks making Triple-A batters look silly, pitching to a 0.99 ERA with 45 strikeouts over 27.1 innings. He needed to face tougher competition.

On Saturday, May 11, at 4:07 pm, it finally happened. Skenes unleashed a 101-mph fastball for the first pitch of his MLB career. Five pitches later, he had retired Chicago Cubs leadoff hitter Mike Tauchman for his first big league strikeout.

A Promising Debut

The 21-year-old right-hander finished his day after 84 pitches and four-plus innings of work. He was charged with three earned runs. It wasn’t the dominant debut he might have hoped for, but his stuff looked sharp and his underlying numbers were unquestionably promising.

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Moreover, his overall line would have looked much more impressive were he removed after the fourth inning, before he surpassed the 75-pitch threshold and began his third time through the Cubs’ batting order.

Through four innings, Skenes gave up four hits and a lone earned run on a solo shot off the bat of Nico Hoerner. He walked just two and struck out seven. Without a doubt, those seven strikeouts (and 14 swinging strikes) were the highlight of his outing.

Skenes Has the Stuff

Indeed, despite his uninspiring final line, Skenes flashed the potential to be every bit as good as advertised. The righty wasn’t holding back at all, averaging 100.1 mph on his four-seam fastball and topping out at 101.9 mph (per Baseball Savant). He generated four whiffs and eight foul balls on 15 swings against his heater.

He also showed off his versatile slider, throwing the pitch as hard as 89.4 mph and as soft as 81.2 mph. His slowest slider had 18 inches of glove-side horizontal break, while his fastest had one inch of arm-side break. It’s essentially two different pitches for the price of one.

Finally, Skenes put on a show with his famed “splinker.” The sinker-splitter hybrid was nasty, inducing seven whiffs on 12 swings.

He also gave fans a taste of his changeup and curveball (Skenes has a deep pitch mix), but his four-seam, slider, and splinker accounted for 92% of his offerings on the day.

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84 Pitches (and Counting)

In addition to his imposing arsenal, Skenes impressed with his durability; although he only went four-plus innings, he reached 84 pitches, a new high in his professional career. His previous career-high was 75 pitches on April 30.

In the same vein, it was a promising sign that Skenes was able to reach that pitch count without withholding his top velocity. Some were concerned that Skenes would dial back his triple-digit fastball in order to pitch every five days and go deeper into games, but that certainly was not the case on Saturday. His final fastball of the day clocked in at 99.4 mph, and he was still hitting triple digits late into the fourth inning.

The next challenge for Skenes will be facing (and succeeding against) an opponent for the third time through the batting order. He faced Chicago’s top two batters for a third time on Saturday and gave up hits to each of them before he left the game. Both would later come around to score.

Just the Beginning for Paul Skenes

To that point, this debut was just the beginning for Skenes. Sure, it would have made for a nice story if he dominated straight out of the gate, but the 21-year-old is in no rush to become an ace. His goals for the rest of the 2024 campaign should be to slowly increase his pitch count and discover how his stuff plays against the toughest competition in the world – all while making sure he stays strong and healthy.

While the stress of his big league debut is behind him, there is no doubt that Skenes is still under a tremendous amount of pressure. Not only is he trying to live up to his billing as the first overall pick (taken ahead of Wyatt Langford and Dylan Crews) and the “most anticipated pitching prospect to debut since Stephen Strasburg,” but he will soon be tasked with leading the Pirates out of a long and miserable rebuild.

Thus, while the Pirates are still on the outskirts of contention, Skenes needs to take it easy on himself. This is his chance to take his time and catch his breath. He still has room to grow, skills to learn, and adjustments to make.

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Paul Skenes already has all the talent he’ll ever need. Now he gets to discover how he can put it to good use.

Entering the 2024 campaign, Paul Skenes ranked ninth on Just Baseball’s Top 100 Prospects list. To learn more about the flame-throwing youngster, here is what Aram Leighton had to say regarding Skenes on our preseason rankings:

9. Paul Skenes – RHP – Pittsburgh Pirates

 Height/Weight: 6’6″, 250 | Bat/Throw: R/R | 1st Round (1), 2023 (PIT) | ETA: 2024


Skenes transferred to LSU in hopes of improving his draft stock by throwing in the SEC. In turn, he became a National Champion and one of the best pitching prospects we have seen in some time.

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Skenes is a power pitcher in every sense, but his ability to locate his explosive stuff is what really sets him apart. The right-hander was able to lean on his 98-100 MPH fastball nearly two-thirds of the time, simply overpowering collegiate hitters while also commanding it on both sides of the plate.

There are some questions about the shape of Skenes’ fastball, but shape becomes less consequential when you can locate triple digits. Over his last ten collegiate starts, Skenes averaged 99 MPH and touched 102 MPH several times.

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The wipeout pitch is the slider in the mid-80s. The pitch features late sweep and is difficult to differentiate from the fastball out of his hand. Skenes locates it extremely well to his glove side, but the pitch is such a whiff machine that he can pick up ugly swings even when he doesn’t drill his spot.

While he did not need to use it much in college, Skenes has a good changeup that could develop into a plus pitch as he becomes more accustomed to throwing it. It sits in the 88-91 MPH range with good arm side fade.


One of the best college arms we have seen in some time, Skenes should fly through the minor leagues with little reason to waste bullets at the lower levels. While he will need some seasoning in the minors, it is arguable that the bulk of his development could be had at the big league level, given his borderline plus command of two 70-grade pitches.

The development of his changeup will likely be the key to his frontline upside, but he is likely good enough to churn out quality starts for the Pirates while still working on his feel for the pitch. We could see Skenes making MLB starts as early as next season. With some tweaks to his fastball shape and refinement of an already solid third pitch, Skenes could blossom into one of the best young arms in the game.