It’s Time for the Pirates To Call up Paul Skenes

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Pitching for Triple-A Indianapolis on Thursday, Paul Skenes extended his streak of scoreless innings to 12 2/3 to start the season. In his fourth start, Skenes whiffed eight of the 14 batters he faced against the St. Paul Saints, Minnesota’s Triple-A affiliate.

Skenes is the best pitching prospect according to our prospect rankings, so I doubt I have to use too much of this space to convince you that Skenes is an impressive talent. Across nine professional starts since being the first pick in the 2023 draft, he has struck out an eye-popping 37 batters in 19 1/3 innings, just under half of all batters he’s faced. In addition to those strikeouts, he’s allowed just four walks – this is not a case of a flamethrower with only a casual acquaintance with the strike zone – and has yet to allow a professional homer. He ranked only fifth among pitching prospects in the ZiPS Top 100, which may not sound quite as electrifying, but given that ZiPS is designed to be suspicious of players with almost no professional experience, it was high praise to consider him that highly after he’d recorded only 6 2/3 innings as a professional before 2024.

Skenes throws hard, and entering Thursday’s game, he had the highest average fastball velocity of any Triple-A pitcher.

Triple-A Fastball Velocity Leaders, Entering 4/18
Player Average Fastball (mph)
1 Paul Skenes 100.1
2 Justin Martinez 100.1
3 Michel Otanez 98.4
4 Trevor Megill 98.1
5 Ricky Karcher 97.7
6 McKinley Moore 97.7
7 Jordan Holloway 97.5
8 Adrian Morejon 97.5
9 Orion Kerkering 97.1
10 Edward Cabrera 96.9
11 Daniel Palencia 96.8
12 Tony Santillan 96.8
13 Elvis Alvarado 96.7
14 Steven Cruz 96.6
15 Jeremiah Estrada 96.5
16 Connor Phillips 96.4
17 Manuel Rodríguez 96.4
18 Randy Rodríguez 96.4
19 Yerry Rodríguez 96.3
20 Brett de Geus 96.2

Suffice it to say, Thursday didn’t do anything to change where Skenes lands on this ever-so-slightly dated ranking, as his 41 fastballs against St. Paul averaged 100.5 mph. His slowest fastball traveled at 99.1 mph, enough that it would be the offering of a lifetime for many pitchers. Adding in his most recent start, his contact rate on those fastballs is the third lowest in Triple-A (min. 30 fastballs), behind only Edwin Uceta and Mason Englert.

Velocity, of course, doesn’t mean much if your secondary pitches aren’t good. But Skenes is no slouch here, either.

Triple-A Contact Leaders, Non-Fastballs
Pitcher Whiffs Swings Contact Launch Angle
1 Riley Thompson 18 30 40.0% 23.8
2 Spencer Arrighetti 19 33 42.4% 10.3
3 Paul Skenes 24 44 45.5% -5.7
4 Grant Holmes 20 37 45.9% 9.0
5 Touki Toussaint 17 33 48.5% -5.4
6 Carson Whisenhunt 22 43 48.8% 15.1
7 Brooks Kriske 25 50 50.0% 17.6
8 Keider Montero 22 44 50.0% 14.1
9 Konnor Pilkington 19 38 50.0% 11.4
10 Dom Hamel 19 38 50.0% 11.9
11 Jesus Tinoco 16 32 50.0% 24.6
12 Josh Walker 17 35 51.4% 3.4
13 Nick Nastrini 20 42 52.4% 5.0
14 Walter Pennington 26 55 52.7% 6.4
15 Allan Winans 17 36 52.8% 15.7
16 Mason Englert 23 49 53.1% 10.9
17 Beau Brieske 14 30 53.3% 8.0
18 Dakota Chalmers 14 30 53.3% 15.6
19 Hans Crouse 14 30 53.3% 8.6
20 Ken Giles 14 30 53.3% 23.7

The table above includes his seven whiffs on the 10 secondary pitches he threw Thursday. Clearly, Skenes isn’t a pitcher using velocity to try to make up for lackluster secondary offerings. He knows how to miss bats just as well with chicanery as he does with brute force. He’s so thoroughly dominated hitters that he’s been heavily using just his fastball, changeup, and slider; he’s thrown one curveball in total over his last two starts (against Toledo on April 12), and on Thursday, he threw his “splinker” (splitter-sinker) twice against St. Paul. When Skenes isn’t leaving batters futilely swinging at gaseous oxygen and nitrogen, they’ve generally been hitting those pitches into the ground, not the stands.

Back before the season, ZiPS already saw Skenes as a league-average starter in 2024 despite almost no professional experience. For his four starts in 2024, ZiPS translates those numbers as one homer, three walks, and 20 strikeouts in 12 innings, for an ERA of 2.72. Add in that and the Statcast numbers that stabilize very quickly and Skenes’ ZiPS projections are now aligned with his Steamer ones.

ZiPS Projection – Paul Skenes
2024 5 6 3.94 28 28 130.3 116 57 15 46 138 108 2.3
2025 5 6 3.82 29 29 134.3 117 57 15 43 139 111 2.5
2026 6 5 3.75 30 30 144.0 124 60 15 43 145 113 2.7
2027 6 6 3.72 32 32 147.7 126 61 15 41 145 114 2.8
2028 6 6 3.78 32 32 150.0 129 63 16 40 144 112 2.9
2029 6 6 3.80 33 33 156.3 135 66 17 41 148 111 2.9

In terms of run prevention, Skenes’ projection for the rest of this season is better than the three top members of Pittsburgh’s rotation, Martín Pérez, Mitch Keller, and Jared Jones. And that sunny optimism comes from a mean ol’ projection system, which doesn’t have the ability to get a shiver down its transistors when it sees Skenes exile batters like they’re Bruce Banner walking away to sad piano music.

Now, even without looking at this through the cynical lens of service time shenanigans, you can understand why the Pirates are being conservative with Skenes, though you certainly don’t have to agree with what they’re doing. As noted, Skenes doesn’t have a lot of professional experience and they are trying to keep his workload down. He throws the ball ridiculously hard, and extreme velocity does come with the risk of elbow damage and, therefore, Tommy John surgery. But that risk will be there at whatever level he’s throwing, and the whole purpose of giving a pitcher minor league experience is for him to learn how to get big league hitters out. I’m a believer in the idea that you have to challenge a prospect, and the only players who can challenge Skenes at this point are in the majors.

Besides, the Pirates can still manage Skenes’ workload in the majors. They can continue to give him three-inning appearances and ramp him up gradually with some creativity. Let him start and throw those three-inning specials or tandem starts or just have him pitch three or four innings in relief when the opportunity arises. Even if they’re not confident enough in his durability to start him, Skenes can certainly throw quality bullpen innings and reduce the workload of the rest of the ‘pen. Earl Weaver, my favorite manager ever both for objective and subjective reasons (hey, I’m from Baltimore), was certainly quite happy to break starters in as relievers for a while. Jim Palmer, Doyle Alexander, Scott McGregor, Dennis Martinez, and Mike Flanagan all spent good chunks of time as relievers before Weaver put them into the rotation.

[Note: As my colleague Jay Jaffe just reminded me, Weaver wasn’t manager until ’68, so Palmer was Hank Bauer, not Weaver -DS]

This becomes even more of an imperative when you consider where the Pirates are in the standings. If they were playing like the White Sox, maybe calling up Skenes in a furious attempt to avoid losing 110 games wouldn’t be worth upsetting the apple cart. The Pirates may have cooled down since their torrid start, but at 11-8, they are just a game out of first place in the NL Central. ZiPS currently projects the Pirates to have a 10.3% chance of winning the division and a 23.3% chance of making the postseason. If Skenes throws 100 innings in the majors this year, rather than the 60 that ZiPS currently projects when doing its season simulations, Pittsburgh’s odds to win the division climb to 14.2% and its probability to snag a playoff berth jumps to 28.9%. In a tight NL Central race, with all five teams having a plausible shot at winning the division, every game truly matters.

For years, the Pirates have been sacrificing the present to build for the future, so they shouldn’t sacrifice that future to play for a premature present. That said, because Skenes is clearly ready to face big league hitters, there’s no point in keeping him in the minors. It’s time for the Pirates to promote him and make their future the present.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
CC AFCmember
1 month ago

Your lips to god’s ears, Dan

1 month ago
Reply to  CC AFC

They just promoted Quinn Priester to take today’s start so not exactly just yet.

CC AFCmember
1 month ago
Reply to  wokegraphs3

Well, yeah, he pitched yesterday, so he wasn’t gonna start a game in the majors today

1 month ago
Reply to  wokegraphs3

And he did his Quinn Priester thing tossing up 2 gopher balls in the 1st inning.

1 month ago
Reply to  bosoxforlife

OMG. He even gave up a hit to Bobby Dalbec. ROFL. Then threw the ball away on a tapper back to the mound. You can’t make this up. ROFL Again!!

Last edited 1 month ago by bosoxforlife
1 month ago
Reply to  bosoxforlife

Q isn’t good at all, I’m not sure why you’re surprised.

1 month ago
Reply to  gettwobrute79

I’m not surprised at all. You missed my point.

1 month ago
Reply to  bosoxforlife

It’s unclear what point you were making. Bad hitter faces bad pitcher, someone’s gonna win.

Last edited 1 month ago by gettwobrute79
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Szymborski

One of the best communities around!