The Pittsburgh Pirates and first-round pick Paul Skenes agreed to a contract that included the largest signing bonus in MLB Draft history on Tuesday, July 18. With less than ten days between the draft and Skenes’ signing, the contract negotiation process came together quickly.
Pirates General Manager Ben Cherington said Matt McConnell and Michael Hollimon of Independent Sports & Entertainment (ISE) Agency represented Skenes through the process. Skenes ended up signing for $521,000 less than the value of his draft slot, although his $9.2 million bonus still set a record.
Despite his high-flying past at the Air Force Academy—Skenes spent his first two years of college there, and said he flew F-15 and F-16 fighter jets during his time—he remains down-to-earth, especially when it comes to the hefty sum the Pirates offered. A six-figure slight didn’t make an impact on his decision.
“Overall, it was a very easy offer, in my opinion, to take,” Skenes said with a laugh during his introductory press conference in Pittsburgh. “It was a pretty easy decision with the organization and the people that are here. I was very comfortable wanting to come here.”
As Pirates fans wonder how soon Skenes could join the big league team, the first-rounder is champing at the bit too.
What’s the Difference?
“It’s a different game, and I’ve never obviously been on a big league field. I’m going to do everything I can to get there as soon as possible, you know, whatever that takes,” Skenes said. “In terms of my stuff, I think I’m very close.”
Beyond the talent leap, the transition from college pitching to the big leagues isn’t a one-to-one process. The college ball has much flatter seams, affecting spin rates, drag and how it catches the air. Cherington said the Pirates’ scouting department made allowances for that disparity in the pre-draft process.
“We have data from over a number of years that we can see what happens to guys’ stuff as they go into pro ball over a period of years, we have a way of being able to project that with a guy like Paul,” Cherington said. “Based on what happened with [a given player] when he moved into pro ball, where Paul’s stuff is, we can project that. He’s also thrown with a major league ball in bullpens, stuff like that. It won’t be entirely new for him.”
Cherington held his cards close when asked if Skenes would pitch again in 2023, saying the organization would wait to evaluate him on factors like health and performance at their Florida Complex League facility before putting together a plan for the rest of the year.
In a draft loaded with talent, Cherington said that Skenes’ personality helped solidify him as the top pick.
Locker Room Guy
“Closer to the decision, we get to know Paul as a person…it’s also a partnership with a person. And as we got to know Paul, it just solidified for us very clearly in our minds that this is a person we want to go into this together with,” Cherington said. “He is someone who not only meets challenges, but literally will pursue the hardest challenges. He does not wait for the challenges to meet him, he goes and finds them.”
Skenes emphasized the importance of discipline in every facet of life, something the Air Force Academy ingrained in him—an experience he said was tougher than pitching in the College World Series.
While it sounds like a tall order to expect Skenes to step up and lead the club the second he arrives in Pittsburgh—whenever that occurs—he said he thinks that’s why the Pirates picked him.
“One of the reasons I’m in this opportunity, I think, is because they trust me to affect people. I think, more than anything, I need to lean into that and not doubt [myself], because I’ve done that in the past,” Skenes said. “That’s part of the maturation as a leader and as a man. You have to be self confident and sure of yourself. It’s something that I think I’ve learned to do over the last couple years. As I get the opportunity to affect people, I’m going to do that in a positive way, as best as I can.”