This is the fourth part of a five-part series examining the top five prospects in the 2023 MLB Draft.
While the top of the 2023 draft board is more position player heavy, there is one pitcher who is certainly in play for the Pittsburgh Pirates with the first overall pick.
Paul Skenes had an excellent season on the mound for the LSU Tigers and helped lead them to the College Baseball World Series.
Skenes, a 21-year-old right-hander from Lake Forest, California began his collegiate career with Air Force before transferring to LSU prior to the start of the 2023 season.
In his first season competing in the Southeastern Conference, Skenes dominated to the tune of a 12-2 record and a 1.69 ERA. He struck out 209 batters in 122.1 innings and walked only 20 batters across 19 starts.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander’s 209 punchouts set a single-season record en route to being named the SEC Pitcher of the Year.
The intrigue with Skenes is clear, and it has more to do than just with his eye-opening statistics.
Skenes’ fastball routinely sits in the upper-90s and was clocked as high as 102 mph this last season with LSU. According to MLB Pipeline, Skenes’ fastball is an 80-grade on the 20-80 scouting scale.
His slider is also a plus-plus offering, and has gotten better the more he has pitched. The pitch is sharp and is capable of often inducing swings and misses — a big reason for his heavy strikeout totals.
In addition to having above-average control, Skenes also features a changeup as a third offering.
Skenes’ emergence this season could be the result of one key change. A two-way player during his career at Air Force, Skenes focused solely on pitching in his lone season in Baton Rouge.
Looking at the Pirates’ top prospects, there isn’t a clear potential ace starting pitcher currently in the system and Skenes would give them that.
In his tenure as Pirates’ general manager, Ben Cherington has opted for position players in the first round in all three of his drafts with the organization.
If anybody could lead Cherington to taking a pitcher with the first pick, it’s a guy like Skenes, who has been mentioned as the best draft-eligible pitcher since Stephen Strasburg in 2009.