Top Pitching Prospects Roundup: Paul Skenes and Chase Dollander Dominate

Pitching prospects littered throughout the top 100 got their MiLB seasons off to incredibly strong starts.

Paul Skenes
BRADENTON, FLORIDA - MARCH 14, 2024: Paul Skenes #30 of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws a pitch during the first inning of a spring training Spring Breakout game against the Baltimore Orioles at LECOM Park on March 14, 2024 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by George Kubas/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

Minor League Baseball is back in full swing, which means a bunch of incredibly talented pitchers toed the rubber since last Friday. The first of a weekly article you can expect on Mondays or Tuesdays, the first “Pitching Prospects Roundup” is centered around mostly top 100 prospects, however you can expect a mixed bag of standouts throughout the season from all levels and regard.

Essentially, I will try to highlight the 10ish most notable starts each week that I was able to catch and break down what made them significant. I will be diving even deeper into each of these starts from a data and sequencing perspective along with a lot more on weekly bonus episodes of The Call Up that you can subscribe to here!

Paul Skenes (Pirates Triple-A): 3 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K

It was pure dominance from Skenes yet again as he builds up in preparation for his big league call up. The No. 1 overall pick made the most of his 44 pitches, pouring in 32 strikes and allowing just two base runners. He threw a first pitch strike to 9 of the 11 batters he faced.

He threw 25 fastballs, touching 102 MPH and averaging triple digits. The slider was not quite there for him to the degree that it was in his first start, with just 5 of his 14 total landing for a strike. He mixed in five “splinkers” in the mid 90s, all for strikes.

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The scary part about Skenes is that you can tell he is still feeling out variations of his slider. Mostly throwing sweepers in college, Skenes has been focused on throwing several iterations of his slider from the same grip based on how he manipulates it, something he went deep into with us on an episode of “The Call Up” that will air later this week. Some have more sweep, some are more two plane, others are shorter and harder.

Nobody really hit anything he threw before, so this Triple-A stint has been an opportunity for Skenes to see which variations of his slider are most effective in certain spots; it’s feedback he has never really had before. As he gets more comfortable with manipulating the slider for a strike, it not only gives him a more unique pitch mix, but makes him almost impossible to game plan for with the clear comfort he now has with his splinker and his elite fastball.

Christian Scott (Mets Triple-A): 4 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 9 K

Scott was cruising out of the gate, punching out five of the first seven batters he faced. Per usual, his fastball was jumping, sitting in the mid 90s with great characteristics that allow it to be a whiff machine within the zone.

While it was not Scott’s most efficient outing (82 pitches in four innings), he did not give away any free passes. Sometimes that will be the push-and-pull for pitchers who pick up as much whiff as Scott, as there may not be as much early contact and a lot more deep counts. It seemed like Scott’s control was there but the command wasn’t, missing on a lot of 0-1 and 1-1 counts to drive up his pitch count.

He picked up 18 swinging strikes, eight of which via the fastball along with seven sliders and three changeups. The new-look slider was really effective when Scott was keeping it down and locating it to his glove side. In his final inning of work, he started to leave the pitch up more, which is not surprising considering he had not thrown more than 60 pitches since last August.

Two hangers hit for homers in his final inning of work were the only damage. Overall, it was an impressive outing and something strong to build off of for the Mets top pitching prospect.

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Robby Snelling (Padres Double-A): 4 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K

It was a solid outing overall for Snelling, who surprisingly had a better feel for his secondaries through much of the start than his fastball. Of his 44 heaters, only 24 landed for a strike, though he countered that with a 65% strike rate on his breaking ball and changeup.

Another pitcher I was lucky enough to sit down with ahead of the season, Snelling talked about how much focus and energy he put into developing his feel for his changeup this offseason and it was evident in his first start. He went to the pitch more than his breaking ball, landing 13 of his 20 changeups for a strike.

While it’s early, it seemed as though Snelling was keen on establishing the feel for his changeup in his first start after recording a strike rate of just 54% on the pitch last season on 11% usage. Snelling picked up a lot of weak contact, with the only damage being an AJ Vukovich homer on a 1-2 curve that was a ball down and in.

If the improved feel for the changeup continues to be a trend, I think Snelling is going to start cruising through Double-A competition.

Jackson Jobe (Tigers Double-A): 2.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, (0 ER), 3 BB, 3 K

Despite it not being Jobe’s sharpest outing, he was better than the stat line may indicate. He cruised through the first inning before finding himself in a bases loaded jam in the second which he would escape unscathed.

The third inning is where things got wonky. First, an infield pop-up drops. The next batter hits a ground ball to shortstop that takes a bad hop and is bobbled. Instead of two outs nobody on, it’s two on and nobody out. After a laborious second inning, it was the last thing Jobe needed, especially when the plan was for him to finish around 50 pitches. He struck out Dermis Garcia then exited as he eclipsed the 50-pitch mark.

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The fastball command was good for Jobe, averaging 97.7 MPH on his fastball with more than 18 inches of induced vertical break. 18 of his 21 fastballs were for a strike, including 99.3 MPH to punch out Dylan Crews. All three walks were full count free passes. It was just one of those days where the baseball gods made Jobe’s life a bit tougher and his execution was not razor sharp enough to overcome it in his first start. Expect a strong bounce back from the Tigers top prospect next outing.

Drew Thorpe (White Sox Double-A): 5 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K

Plenty of strikes and an unhittable changeup, it was more of the same for Thorpe in his White Sox organizational debut. He picked up at least 12 whiffs on his changeup (a few pitches were not tracked), weaponizing the 80 grade offering to both lefties and righties.

His 90-92 MPH fastball was still effective, averaging more than 20 inches of IVB and picking up five whiffs along with a few weak pop ups. He leaned on his cutter more than the slider, grabbing several whiffs and back door strikes.

Noah Schultz (White Sox High-A): 4 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 10 K

Utter dominance from the White Sox 2022 first round pick in his season debut. Pitch tracking was a little shaky with about half of his offerings not registering, which is unfortunate considering how ridiculous the stat line is.

From what I was able to see and gather, Schultz looks like that elbow flare up from last season is in the rearview mirror. He ran his fastball up to 99 MPH, averaging around 96 MPH with ridiculous arm side run. The horizontal separation from a 6-foot-9 frame is just too bizarre for hitters, with Schultz’s low 80s sweeper playing well off of his running fastball and changeup that similarly features gaudy arm side movement.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Schultz is how well he controls his ginormous body and an arsenal with so much east/west movement. After walking just six batters in 27 innings last season, Schultz is right back to filling up the zone in 2024.

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Tink Hence (Cardinals Double-A): 5 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K

It’s hard to argue against five no-hit innings, even if the strikeouts weren’t coming in droves for Hence. The 21-year-old’s command was as strong as it has been in a while, throwing all three of his offerings for a strike and comfortably working back into counts when he did fall behind against one of the more disciplined lineups in the Texas League, the Arkansas Travelers (Mariners).

Hence sat 95-97 MPH with his fastball, touching 98 MPH. He picked up six whiffs on his fastball along with three ground balls and froze two hitters at the knees for strike three. Seeing Hence confidently go to his secondaries was refreshing after struggling in that regard last season. Hence likely would have punched out more had he not started so many counts 1-0, but he rarely missed consecutively.

Chase Dollander (Rockies High-A): 5 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 8 K

Ahead of the season, I sat down with Dollander and he confidently explained what had gone awry with him mechanically in his draft year at Tennessee. Dollander shut things down after a long college season and really honed in on his mechanics heading into this season. The result was a pro debut that reminded us why Dollander was regarded as the top arm in the class heading into 2023.

Dollander explained that in his draft year at Tennessee, he felt as though he was “pulling heavy with [his] glove side”, which could cause his throwing arm to, “shoot up and lose control” while negating desired ride.

After watching Dollander’s pro debut, it made it easy to understand why the talented righty felt like he was back where he needed to be mechanically ahead of the season. Sitting 96 MPH and running it up to 98 MPH with his heater, Dollander’s regained vertical life was more than evident.

When the vert is there, it is accentuated by his low three-quarters release. Dollander picked up 16 swinging strikes with his fastball, overpowering hitters within the zone and getting them to chase above it.

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There was little need for Dollander to go to his secondaries, with 60 of his 80 pitches being of the fastball variety. He picked up a couple whiffs on his slider, two on his new curveball and one more on a changeup. If there was one nitpick, it was the misses to the glove side with his slider, landing just 7 of 15 for a strike, but it was almost encouraging to see him not really waver at all despite his best out pitch not totally being there for him.

Rhett Lowder (Reds High-A): 4 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K

Watching Lowder attack the zone with his assortment of offerings is a satisfying sight. He goes for early weak contact with his sinker, helping him pick up a total of seven ground balls out of the 10 balls put in play, but his slider and changeup can make hitters look silly and he’ll throw them in any count. Then, when you least expect it, he’ll buzz the four seamer up high.

Lowder averaged 94 MPH on his fastball, drilling his spots and freezing hitters for called third strikes on multiple occasions as they were lulled by the changeup and slider. He picked up four whiffs on each of his secondaries and an overall strike rate of 69%. Lowder screams walking quality start as he continues to stretch out.

Dylan Lesko (Padres High-A) – 4 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K

A unique stat line for Lesko, it seemed like one of those outings where his biggest opposition was himself. Even while he was fighting himself a bit command wise, hitters just could not put good swings on anything he was throwing, with the hardest hit ball being a 90 MPH fly out.

He had the tendency to miss to his arm side, sometimes looking like he was pulling off with his lead shoulder. When he stayed behind the baseball, the riding life was there, exceeding 19 inches of IVB at 92-95 MPH. It was a similar story with his changeup; when everything was in sync, you could see the what is easily a plus pitch or better, but there were a few too many non-competitive arm side misses.

We saw a few of Lesko’s new slider which surely gives him another look along with his big curveball. As Lesko hits the two year mark since his Tommy John surgery, the hope is that the command that made him the top prep arm in the 2022 class continues to come back.

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Sean Sullivan (Rockies High-A): 6 IP, 5 H, 0 ER (1 R), 0 BB, 13 K

The lone pitching prospect mentioned who is not on our top 100 prospects list, Sullivan was as dominant as anyone. He racked up 22 swinging strikes, 18 of which were on his fastball. Even though he was mostly operating in the upper 80s, touching 90 MPH, hitters were consistently late and under his fastball.

A 6-foot-4 southpaw with long levers, Sullivan creates an extremely difficult angle for hitters, whipping a cross-body delivery from what probably feels like first base for hitters. It’s not uncommon for cross-body throwers to lack extension, but that’s what makes Sullivan even more unique, getting elite extension at 7.5 feet. For reference, that’s a foot more of extension than Chris Sale and Andrew Heaney, who share some of the most comparable release points.

Even at a lower velocity his fastball can be dominant, standing out as unique from even the unique. Sullivan’s velocity was a bit down from what we saw at the end of last season, though he did seem to be pacing himself a bit throwing a bit harder in the later innings on his way to the 85 pitch mark for the first time since June of 2023. He mostly sat in the upper 80s, but whether his fastball was at 87 MPH or 90 MPH, hitters looked rushed and uncomfortable.

He pounded the zone confidently, throwing first pitch strikes to 17 of the 23 batters he faced and a fastball strike rate around 80%. Between the dominance of his fastball within the zone and his command of it, there was little need to go to his slider or changeup as much. He still mixed in a handful of whiffs with his secondaries, showing a good feel for both.

Tabbed as one of our favorite breakout pitchers, it’s still early for Sullivan, but it’s hard to not get excited about Sullivan’s stat line, especially when it seems like there could be more velocity in the tank. This could be the beginning of a big year for Sullivan.