Paul Skenes obviously isn’t going to spend a lot of time in the minor leagues. Nor should he.
Selected first overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the amateur draft last month, Skenes is considered baseball’s best pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg made his major-league debut with the Washington Nationals in 2010.
Skenes made his affiliated baseball debut this past Tuesday with Low-A Bradenton. He is expected to also make appearances with High-A Greensboro and Double-A Altoona before the minor-league season ends in a few weeks.
The Pirates should have Skenes make one more stop before ending his first professional season – PNC Park.
OK, I know the argument about rushing players to the major leagues. I also agree with those arguments most of the time. I have indeed watched players’ development take a step back by initially getting beat up in the big leagues.
However, Skenes is a different cat, which is why the Pirates gave him a $9.2 million signing bonus, the largest in draft history.
For one thing, he is insanely talented. All you need to do to understand that is to watch the start he made for LSU against Wake Forest in the College World Series in June when he dominated the top-seeded Demon Deacons.
Many baseball people I trust – including current talent evaluators for major-league clubs and former big-league pitchers – believe Skenes can pitch in the major leagues right now. Many of these same people also believe in taking the conservative approach with player development, but make an exception for Skenes.
“I’ve never said this about any college player before, but I really see no point in the kid even pitching in the minor leagues,” a veteran scout from a National League team said, offered anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the subject. “He’s that good. He’s major-league ready in every way. I understand convention wisdom, but this is a rare case where there is no reason to waste his bullets in the minor leagues.”
There is no reason to fault the Pirates for having Skenes make a few appearances in the minor leagues. It is easier to onboard a professional player in Bradenton than Pittsburgh, where there are fewer distractions. And Skenes’ innings total in the minors in 2023 might not even reach double digits, so it’s not like the Pirates will be burning him out in the Florida State League.
However, if I were the Pirates, I’d let Skenes pitch in the major league at least once this year if only for a couple of innings.
One big reason is everyone would get a firm idea of how his stuff plays against big-league hitters. It would help Skenes know what he needs to improve upon in his first offseason as a professional and it would help the Pirates determine his readiness to begin next season with the major-league club.
Skenes certainly seems mentally capable of handling a big-league start.
After all, this is a young man who lived the military lifestyle of the Air Force Academy for two years before transferring. Skenes has also gotten a taste of the celebrity lifestyle from dating LSU gymnast and social media sensation Livvy Dunne.
The Pirates also would gain in one other way by pitching Skenes in the big leagues. If he were to start a game on a Tuesday in September at PNC Park, it would draw a heckuva lot bigger crowd than anyone else taking the mound.
That would help the Pirates start getting a return on their $9.2 million investment.