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Perrotto: Here’s Hoping Pirates’ Handling of Paul Skenes is for ‘Right Reasons’



Paul Skenes, Pittsburgh Pirates

I have an admission to make.

Sometimes I watch The Batchelor franchise on television with my wife. I haven’t seen every season – baseball gets in the way from April-September – but I have watched enough to detect one recurring theme.

Invariably, one contestant rales against the others about not being on the show “for the right reasons.” That person believes many competitors are looking for fame rather than love.

This brings us to Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Paul Skenes, who is unanimously considered the best pitching prospect in baseball. Skenes is a high-profile romance with Livvy Dunne, an LSU gymnast and social media sensation.

As I’ve gotten to know Skenes at least a little, he seems like the type of guy in the relationship “for the right reasons.” He is respectful, personable, intelligent and honest.

Pirates general manager Ben Cherington informed reporters on Tuesday at the team’s spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla., that Skenes has been told he will begin the season in the minor leagues. Cherington also said Skenes will remain in major-league camp for at least a while longer.

Reading between the lines of everything Cherington said about Skenes throughout the offseason, the Pirates didn’t think the 21-year-old was ready to pitch in the major leagues.

The Pirates’ decision is understandable on the surface. They limited him to 6.2 minor-league innings last year after he had a heavy workload while helping LSU win the College World Series.

However, I can’t help but wonder if at least part of the decision to keep Skenes from making the season-opening rotation is driven by finances.

The Pirates have famously slow-played their prospects in the minor leagues. While done under the guise of player development, the real reason is to slow the player’s ability to accrue major-league service time. And that delays the player’s eligibility for salary arbitration and free agency.

The Pirates aren’t the only MLB team to do this. Other lower-budget franchises use the same strategy.

I wish I could give the Pirates the benefit of the doubt on the decision with Skenes, but history shows they haven’t earned it. If the Pirates truly mean what they say about wanting to contend this season, Skenes should have received a longer opportunity to make the club.

Granted, Skenes has pitched just three innings in the Grapefruit League this spring, which is a tiny sample size. He has allowed only one run on three hits — one of which was a home run by the Tampa Bay Rays’ Amed Rosario – while striking three, walking none and needing just 19 pitches to record nine outs.

Skenes impressed everyone in those two outings. And you don’t need to be a pitching coach to see that Skenes is the most talented starting pitcher in camp for a team with two open rotation spots. No offense to Mitch Keller, who the Pirates recently signed to a five-year, $77-million contract extension.

Thus, I find it difficult to understand why the Pirates ended Skenes’ chances less than two weeks into exhibition play. If they want to win this year, they should have the best players on their big-league roster.

We’ll learn the Pirates’ true intentions once the season begins. If Skenes pitches well but does not get called to the majors until at least late May then it is a service time issue.

Hopefully, the Pirates’ decision will be for “all the right reasons.”

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