When the Pirates introduced 2023 first overall pick Paul Skenes to the media in July, General Manager Ben Cherington and company kept coming back to how he stands out as a person beyond what he does on the mound.
Altoona Curve manager Callix Crabbe said he’s noticed the same thing during Skenes’ short tenure with the team since his promotion to Double-A.
“What I was most impressed with was how humble he was. When you watch him pitch in the College World Series, he’s a dominant personality and very convicted person, but behind that is a very humble soul,” Crabbe said. “His beginnings have shaped his mentality, but it hasn’t stopped him from being a good human being. I heard his college coach talking about how good of a person he was. You’re hoping that when you see him in-person, that’s the vibe and energy that you get. I got the same energy.”
Pirates’ Director of Coaching and Player Development John Baker said Paul Skenes’ sense of self awareness makes him unique.
“It’s been a rare experience to find someone that’s this uniquely self-aware at this age. That’s what really stands out…We don’t run into it too much in professional baseball, this kind of awareness,” Baker said. “It’s not just talent: it’s thoughtfulness, it’s work ethic, it’s service. It’s all these other…components about this person that are what we’re so excited about.”
Seeming Like A Seasoned Veteran
Crabbe said that Paul Skenes already carries himself like a seasoned professional. He also praised the pitcher for his work ethic, noting that he put in an “extreme lift” during the week and arrived at the clubhouse 45 minutes ahead of the doors opening one day, already ready for work.
“He has a very specific process that he would utilize to get prepared for a side so he could imagine what it would be like for a start. Once you hear him talking like that, that tells you that he’s a young man that, over time, has figured out what he needs to do on a day-to-day basis to get prepared to compete at a very high level,” Crabbe said.
“Routines are very much a part of creating calm and allow me to put together quality work in any space. He’s clearly figured that out…at the same time, he’s not so committed to the routine that he’s not able to deal with some of the subtle nuances and variability in the day-to-day pro environment.”
Not An Overnight Sensation
Even though Paul Skenes made his Double-A debut barely a month after the Pirates selected him first overall, Crabbe said he doesn’t want people to look at the pitcher as an overnight sensation. Rather, his meteoric rise is the product of a lifetime of preparation.
“When you become the number one pick, people associate that with someone who’s this über, ultra-talented person—which he is—but let’s not forget his own, individual journey,” Crabbe said. “Behind the backdrop of being the number one pick is a hard-working young man who’s clearly made some decisions and taken some chances in life that have allowed him to get to this place that he is right now. That’s the most important thing that I don’t want anyone to forget. He’s not an overnight sensation by any stretch of the imagination.”
Considering the media frenzy that comes with Skenes’ draft position and career trajectory, Crabbe discussed helping him fit in.
Crabbe said that he doesn’t want Paul Skenes’ extraordinary circumstances to impact his ability to experience and enjoy each moment, which will aid his development on the road to the big leagues.
“I would assume he doesn’t want to feel like he’s not one of the guys. He’s probably been treated like that for quite some time. He just wants to fit in and win games,” Crabbe said. “The club has embraced him. He’s already fit right in.”
Curve left-hander Jackson Wolf, who the Pirates acquired at the trade deadline, said Skenes’ outgoing personality helped him fit in. As another new face in the Curve’ clubhouse, Wolf provided perspective on the process of fitting in.
“He’s been great to have around. He’s an outgoing personality that, you know, he can pretty much be friends with anybody,” Wolf said. “Everyone’s been trying to include him in some conversation and seeing what type of guy he is.”
Wolf said that part of Skenes fitting in was how he adjusted to clubhouse banter. He noted that with the larger-than-life profile surrounding an athlete of Skenes’ caliber, players on the Curve tested the waters carefully in getting to know their new teammate.
“With anybody that high profile, you remind yourself that everybody’s a person, everyone’s a human. You try to find out what that human is like first. You test the waters out a little bit,” Wolf said. “Now that he’s shown some personality, we’ve been giving him some [grief].”
Wolf didn’t elaborate on how Paul Skenes responded, but seemed to indicate that he gave as good as he got.
“No one wants to come into a new clubhouse guns-a-blazing,” Wolf said, grinning. “[He hasn’t said anything] crazy, no, but he hasn’t said nothing. He shows personality…he’s been great to have around.”