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Perrotto: Pirates Only Thing Keeping Paul Skenes Down

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Paul Skenes, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pirates prospects

The sample size is small, just over nine innings.

However, it is large enough to confirm what everyone should already know. Paul Skenes should be in the major leagues.

Skenes was near flawless again Friday night in his third start of the season for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A Indianapolis farm club. He pitched 3.1 scoreless innings at Toledo and has yet to allow a run in 9.1 innings at the highest level of the minor leagues.

While Skenes allowed three hits, he was again overpowering. He struck out eight of the 13 batters he faced and 15 of his 55 pitches were clocked at 100 mph or more..

It is just a continuation of what Skenes has done in the first two weeks of the International League season. He has given up just four hits while striking out 19 and walking just two.

Again, it’s a small sample size, the equivalent of just more than one full game.

However, the statistics do not lie. Nor does the radar gun. And neither do the scouts who have watched Skenes’ outings in person or on video.

Skenes has been dominant and seemingly has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues, small sample size be damned.

The Pirates are taking it slow with Skenes and it’s understandable. They gave the big right-hander a $9.2 million signing bonus last year, an amateur draft record, after selecting him first overall from LSU last July.

It’s a large investment for the normally thrifty Pirates. They are being protective of it. That is why Skenes hasn’t gone past the fourth inning yet and has thrown 46, 44 and 55 pitches in his first three starts.

Skenes carried a heavy workload last season when LSU won the College World Series, logging 122.2 innings over 19 starts. He added another 6.2 innings in five brief outings in the Pirates’ farm system last season that began his professional career.

However, the time has come to promote Skenes if the Pirates are seriously about contending and trying to win the National League Central this season. They have the look of a contender so far, getting off to a 10-4 start, putting them into a virtual tie for first place in the division with the Milwaukee Brewers.

My default reaction to Skenes being in the minor leagues is that the Pirates are trying to manipulate the 21-year-old’s major-league service time. That way they can delay his eligibility for salary arbitration and free agency by a year.

However, I’m not sure anything nefarious is happening in this case. The Pirates put right-hander Jared Jones on the opening-day roster despite having no MLB service time.

Jones proved he was among the Pirates’ five best starting pitchers in spring training. Skenes would have, too, if he had been allowed to pitch more than three innings in Grapefruit League play.

Jones is 1-2 with a 4.00 ERA through three starts. That’s not necessarily impressive. What is, though, are 25 strikeouts and two walks in 18 innings.

Skenes is even more talented than Jones.

If the Pirates fear they might overwork Skenes in the major leagues, they can get creative by using him in a piggyback situation with a reliever.

Skenes could pitch the first four or five innings. The Pirates have three relievers capable of multiple innings who could follow Skenes in left-hander Josh Fleming and right-handers Roansy Contreras and Luis Ortiz.

The Pirates can continue to find reasons to keep Skenes in Indianapolis. However, he already has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues.

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