Heading into the 2023 MLB Draft, the dominant narrative around LSU right-hander Paul Skenes was that he was the most pro-ready prospect in years, an already MLB-level pitcher playing in college.
It’s rarely that simple.
Skenes, the first overall pick of the 2023 Draft, made his debut at Double-A with the Pittsburgh Pirates-affiliated Altoona Curve. His final line: four earned runs, three hits, two walks, two strikeouts in 2/3 of an inning of work. He didn’t make it out of the first inning.
Per MiLB.com’s Gameday feature, all three of the hits Skenes allowed came on pitches in the middle-middle section of the strike zone, including this RBI single by Aaron Bracho:
That’s not quite the start the Pirates envisioned when they pushed him to Double-A after he threw four scoreless innings in three appearances between the Single-A Bradenton Marauders and the Pirates’ FCL affiliate.
He at least got some strikeouts in:
It should be clearly stated here: one bad inning does not mean Skenes is anywhere close to a bust. Pirates fans should not be panicking. Skenes is still one of the best prospects in baseball. Saturday just goes to show that the distance between college ball and MLB is still very large, and very few players, if any these days, can make that jump without at least some seasoning in the minors.
The recently retired Stephen Strasburg, arguably the best pitching prospect ever and a person to whom Skenes has been compared many times, made 16 starts as a minor leaguer before his electric debut with the Washington Nationals in 2010. Gerrit Cole, another former No. 1 overall pick out of college, needed 31 starts to go from the draft to the Pirates’ big league club.
Saturday was the true start of Skenes’ adjustment to professional baseball. It could easily get smoother as he learns what won’t work against hitters who regularly see triple-digit heat and nasty breaking balls, or he might need a little more time than expected. With stuff as outrageous as his, it will still probably be worth the wait.