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Perrotto: ‘Skenesmas’ is Almost Here for Shelton, Pirates



Paul Skenes, Pittsburgh Pirates

It is kind of like that Christmas present underneath the tree that you can’t wait to open.

That is how Pittsburgh Pirates manager Derek Shelton and so many others feel about top pitching prospect Paul Skenes. While Skenes logged 6.2 innings in five minor-league games last season during his professional debut, Shelton and the rest of the major-league coaching staff have yet to see the right-hander pitch in game situations.

The opportunity will come soon enough as the Pirates open Grapefruit League play on Saturday. The exhibition games are when the wrapping paper will come off Skenes, who the Pirates selected first overall in last year’s amateur draft after he led LSU to the College World Series title.

“It’s exciting,” Shelton said. “His progression as he continues to pitch, we’re happy about. To see him in person and be able to get him on the mound, I think it’s something organizationally that we’re excited about.

“To get him out there, to get him in competition, as much as we learned about him personally, not being able to see him, but to watch him compete it’s going to be really important for us.”

Skenes is nearly unanimously considered the best pitching prospect in baseball, including by such outlets as Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs. He burst into prominence last spring after transferring to LSU from the Air Force Academy.

In 19 starts and 122.2 innings, Skenes had a 13-2 record, 1.69 ERA and 209 strikeouts.

The Pirates used Skenes sparingly last season because of his heavy college workload. However, he is being treated like any other starting pitching prospect this spring.

“What’s mapped out would be the same thing that would be mapped out for every one of those young starters,” Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said. “It’s when’s the next mound session, when’s the live (batting practices), when are they in games, what’s the inning progression or volume progression look like in spring training and how do we help best prepare, not just Paul, but the entire group for a full professional season?”

The Pirates say Skenes is competing for one of two open spots in their major-league starting rotation. However, it seems most likely that he will begin the season at either Triple-A Indianapolis or Double-A Altoona.

“We want to respect Paul Skenes and let him be Paul Skenes,” Cherington said. “Whatever the path is, it should be unique to him. We want him to be in the best position to help the Pirates win as many games for as long as possible. I’m not concerned or ready to think about when that’s going to start.”

Many of the Pirates players are also anxious to watch Skenes. Among them is catcher Henry Davis, who was the first overall pick in the 2021 draft.

The two No. 1s spent part of the offseason working out together at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

“I love how he goes about his day. It’s all business,” Davis said. “You can keep a very serious atmosphere when he’s on the field. That’s how we get better, find something to work on every day. Off the field, he can just be a normal guy.

“Obviously, I’ve caught Paul more than most of the guys here this offseason, so I’m excited about (seeing him in game action) personally but I’m sure everyone will share that when they get to see him, too.”

Christmas – Skenesmas? – is almost here.

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