Major League Baseball
Paul Skenes is as good as advertised. What's next for him and the Pirates?
Major League Baseball

Paul Skenes is as good as advertised. What's next for him and the Pirates?

Updated May. 19, 2024 1:39 p.m. ET

It only took until his second MLB start for Paul Skenes to live up to the hype.

Less than a year after the Pittsburgh Pirates made him the first overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft out of LSU, Skenes shut down the Chicago Cubs — and any lingering doubts about his big league readiness — in his second career start. The right-hander tossed six no-hit innings Friday while striking out 11 Cubs hitters, including the first seven he faced. 

Skenes flashed the strengths that have made him arguably the most hyped pitching prospect to reach the majors since Stephen Strasburg in 2010. He recorded 22 swings and misses and threw his fastball 41 times for an average of 99.3 mph, with 12 of those heaters registering 100 mph or above on the radar gun. 

All three of Skenes' strikeouts in the first inning Friday came on those trademark triple-digit speed fastballs.


It's that same velocity that has many observers concerned that Skenes is destined to join many of his young, hard-throwing peers in undergoing Tommy John surgery sooner or later. FOX Sports lead MLB analyst and Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz has been an outspoken critic of how the emphasis on velocity and spin rate is hurting the durability of this generation of pitchers. But Smoltz sees Skenes as a unique talent that the Pirates must trust to extend later into games in order to build up that durability, as he explained to me on our latest "Saturdays with Smoltz" segment on "Flippin' Bats."

"There's not one easy answer," Smoltz said. "But if he's breezing and he looks good — and he's repeating his mechanics — I don't think you can set a limit on him. As the year goes on, if they're not competing at the end of the year, it's a different story. But I'm a big believer that you use this year as an opportunity to learn as much as you can as a pitcher. 

"This year is a good test drive. I would keep my eyes on his mechanics and the stress load of of what he's trying to do. But look — 101, 102, 103 [mph] is not normal. So there's no way to bandage that. You just got to make sure he repeats his mechanics and is in the best spot to be competing day in and day out."

It's those mechanics that make Skenes unique, Smoltz said, alluding to what he calls Skenes' "funky arm angle" that provides an uncommonly low release point for his electric fastball. Smoltz believes that the Pirates should resist the urge to overhaul Skenes' mechanics, and also refuse to set a hard limit on his rookie year innings count.

"In any sport, like a funky golf swing — you repeat it over and over again, you're going to have the opportunity to be successful. It's the same thing with pitching," Smoltz added. "[As for workload limits], you cannot approach this like [MLB teams have] approached it the last seven years. You can't baby everybody. You can't handicap everybody by taking away their innings. You've got to let each individual be its own story.

"I'm never a fan of a 115-pitch limit or a 160-inning limit. You don't know. It's not universal. Let this guy become the guy that you drafted — without running them out there, obviously, nine innings every single time. If he pitches a nine-inning game, I'll be shocked this year, but it's not out of the possibility."

To Smoltz's point, while Pirates manager Derek Shelton did pull Skenes in the midst of a no-hitter, the rookie had reached 100 pitches in those six innings and likely would have needed at least 30 more to finish the game. Smoltz believes Skenes has another big advantage as he tests his talent and durability on the MLB stage, as the 21-year-old rookie has already pitched against elite talent while helping LSU to a College World Series title last year and went as deep as 130 pitches into games at that level.

"The biggest thing is now, he gets to learn on the job," Smoltz said. "This year is a very important year for him. He's not a high school guy. He's a college guy, he should be able to withstand some of those things that you need to do to go through a year. 

"I love the action on his pitches. I think the sky's the limit if he stays healthy."

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