Pirates Draft Prospects: Should Paul Skenes Be Selected First Overall?

Our weekly spotlight of 2023 draft prospects began with a closer look at LSU outfielder Dylan Crews, who many people have as the top prospect in this draft class. We then moved on to Chase Dollander, a right-handed pitcher from the University of Tennessee.

Our third profile article looked at high school outfielder Walker Jenkins. That was followed by LSU pitcher Paul Skenes. Our fifth profile was high school outfielder Max Clark, whose season opened that same day as the article was posted. The last profile was Wyatt Langford, the power-hitting Florida outfielder. Here’s our draft preview article in case you missed it.

Paul Skenes has been at the forefront of the news lately. Both Baseball America and Kiley McDaniel had articles taking a closer look at him. The BA article compared him to other top prospects already in pro ball. The ESPN article asked the question “When is it too early to take a starting pitcher?“.

We even posted here on Thursday to give people a heads up that Skenes was facing one of the top prospects in this draft. I wanted to give people a chance to watch him, because there is a legit chance that he could be selected first overall.

Let’s start with the BA article, which compares Skenes to the top three pitching prospects right now, Grayson Rodriguez, Eury Perez and Andrew Painter. This BA article came about because they said that some evaluators believe Skenes is the best college starting prospect since Steven Strasburg. More on Strasburg later.

BA got multiple opinions on the subject, and they covered the entire range. Skenes ranks anywhere from fourth in that group, to being right at the top. One person went as far as saying he could be in the majors a year from now. Another grouped him in with Strasburg, Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer as far as talent coming out of college.

That’s not to say that there weren’t questions. BA heard things such as his pitch selection to left-handed hitters being something that might not work in the pros. Another questions his changeup usage, while another said he has the arm action of a reliever. Individually those might not be major problems, but they could be if all three end up being true.

McDaniel’s has an interesting article, where he looks at the low success rate of top pitching prospects going into the draft. The basic summary is that there’s a good chance that you’re not getting an ace if you pick the “consensus” best pitcher in the draft class. It’s a monumentally bigger chance than a comparison to specific spots afterwards (aka the second best, third, fourth, etc), but it’s a small chance compared to everyone else in the draft as a group.

Injuries play a part in that failure to reach the top for pitching prospects, which is why there is more of a risk going for the top pitcher compared to the top hitter in a draft.

Even on a higher level, you could look at Strasburg and see a guy who debuted in 2010 as a young dominant pitcher from the start. He has 30.9 pitching WAR in his career, and he could be done due to multiple injuries. That WAR total ranks him 278th all-time in that category, eight spots behind Lance Lynn, who was drafted 39th overall one year earlier.

So even when your elite talent makes it to the majors as elite, there’s no guarantee he stays there. McDaniel’s numbers say that going by past history, there’s a 40% chance that the top college pitcher in the draft class will give you no (or almost no) return on your pick. While 15% of those picks become aces.

That being said, McDaniel’s puts Skenes in the same group as David Price coming out of college, which ranks Price as the third best college pitcher to be drafted. Strasburg and Cole are considered to be the best during their time in college.

When you look at it that way, instead of just grouping them all together, you have Cole as a recognized ace by most. You have Strasburg, who was an ace at his best. The you have Price, who finished with 40.3 career WAR. He had one Cy Young and two second place finishes.

Injuries aside for Strasburg, that’s a pretty good group to be at the back-end of going into draft day.

I would say that the first overall pick is still up in the air. There’s still time left before that decision has to be made, leaving more chances to be confident in the pick. Skenes is definitely in that discussion.


John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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It’s a no brainer……take the hitter. Impact every day. They seem to stumble into hitters easier than pitchers.


I mean come on who WOULDNT want Spencer Torkelson leading their offense to the overwhelming success Detroit is enjoying right now?

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

To be fair, I’m wondering if the Detroit Tigers are just proving to be absolute shit at development. Really at everything. They’ve been swinging and missing at all aspects.


And yet it’s this development that is informing an extremely one-sided picture of overall player-class risk!


The same people who wouldn’t want Casey Mize fronting the overwhelming pitching staff of the Tigers.


These 2 comments are exactly what I wanted to say. As we all know there are NO sure things. Players who look like the next great thing (pitcher or hitter) don’t always become that or take a while to get there. Mize and Torkelson may be all-stars someday. So, somewhere in the basement at PNC all we can hope is that the decision makers make the right decision and the final results in some cases are likely to be things they could not have anticipated. But there is no blanket guarantee by saying never take a pitcher or a college hitter. The odds of success can guide decisions but guarantee NOTHING.

Last edited 1 month ago by SouthernBuc

Exactly my point.

The overwhelming narrative is that pitchers are so inherently risky that they should be exclusively avoided, and yet this completely ignores the almost equally sketchy history of bats.

It’s just not nearly that simple!


Odds and due diligence is literally the entire game. Do you want to be the gambler or the house? the house, always. Not because you always win , but because if you make solid decisions, unemotional decisions based on odds of success, you WILL win over the long run, always. To me i want the player whom can be flipped at the deadline in 2 years for the guy that will help us win the world series in 2025 and 2026.


Strasburg has “only” 30 WAR? I’d take that all day from whoever they pick. They’re both very good. Unless one gets hurt between now and draft day, either would be a good pick. Good problem to have.


I’m unclear on the rules regarding the team with the first pick in the draft negotiating with prospects. If allowed, wouldn’t it be prudent to make a deal with one of these guys prior to making the actual selection. Unless I’m mistaken, last year Termarr Johnson received over-slot and took a bit longer to sign. Who needs a potential problem like that could have been? Some client/agent combinations can be quite demanding. PirateRican21 is exactly right. Whomever they choose will likely be a Pirate for no more than 6 – 6 ½ years at least some of which will not be at optimum value. Since all the top guys are close in baseball value (I suspect Crews is at least slightly above the others), perhaps the best $ value is the way to go.
chappy favored the position player over a pitcher. I second the motion. 


Watching LSU playing Miss on TV? Crews has two homers in the first two innings including a grand slam. One of the announcers said he heard an AL executive this week compare Crews to Mike Trout in terms of his tools and overall profile. Anyone really want to take a pass on that for a discount on someone else?


How many times must we look like complete fools listening to absurd comps from unnamed executives before we stop doing this?


The comps are dumb but the video is great. The big thing is the offspeed whiffs but you’d hope Cherington and team know how to deal with the data on those.


Amen, kid’s a stud but you start getting silly emotional influences on what should be rational decision making when clouding the picture with stupid comps.

Last edited 1 month ago by NMR

That’s silly talk to compare him to Trout. But he’s still the pick for me.


I’m 100% on team Crews


He has definitely won me over. I check every game they play now and I am impressed. I think Skenes could be great too, BUT I don’t like the risk pitching brings. There are other ways to find great pitchers without risking as much.


Not me


Can’t go wrong with LSU, but pick for me s/b who can contribute to major league team ASAP…


BTW: Pirates Extend Contract Of Manager Derek Shelton


I’m convinced Crews is going to get full slot, at least if drafted number 1. Is there any chance Skenes comes with a discount, or is he a guaranteed full slot? If there’s a discount, that could help mitigate the risk some and make the choice a little easier. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s full slot, given the players he’s being compared to.


If you believe either one of these guys is as good as he appears, why would you hesitate to pay them slot value? Money should have absolutely nothing to do with the decision. The Pirates have the $16+ million to spend. Give Crews, or Skenes $9.7 million of it instead of gambling some of it on some later round players most of whom will never even sniff the majors.


Money, in and of itself, really doesn’t have anything to do with the options ppl are discussing. The club will spend every cent they can without being penalized, the question is just on whom and in what distribution. It’s not a question of money, but of probability/statistics/game theory etc.

It’s fine to debate which exact strategy is smartest with any given draft class, but let’s not make it about something it isn’t (aka ‘money’).


Two lotto tickets are better than one. Just pick a winner.


Instead of looking at their career WAR, they should look at the 6-6+ years WAR total since there’s a minute chance that he would be retain longer than that.


Yeah, I would go big if the pitcher was flat out better than any hitting prospect, but it’s hard to find any fault at all in the season Dylan Crews is having. It makes crews feel like both the safest bet, and potentially as high a ceiling as anyone. I hope BC sees it the same way, because big slugging OFers are like starting pitchers… you can never have too many.
On the flip side, they could always work the bonus pool angle and do some pre-draft negotiating to see who would be the cheaper of the all-else-equal top options. If any of Crews, Skenes, or Langford is offering a Henry Davisesque discount to go number 1, we could take him and go huge in rounds 2 and 3 on prepsters.


I don’t buy into the logic of choosing a hitter over a pitcher. And I certainly don’t think they should shy away from Pitchers due to risk of injury.

I would hope if the data suggests Skenes is better than Crews and Langford, then the Pirates will take him. Injury concerns or not.


that’s a big if


Is it?

I don’t think I’m qualified to say if it is or isn’t a big if.


I think NH made a mistake in picking Taillon over Machado. Those odds make all kinds of sense to me. Given that there are at least two positio players, Crews and Langford, who are equal to Skenes, I take the position player every time and look for pitching elsewhere.


Also on this topic, Keith Law dropped an article on the Athletic. I won’t spoil too much, but he has a top tier of 3 (Crews, Langford, Skenes) and notes that the Bucs will likely take a position player. I’m not sure if that’s inside info or an educated guess on past picks.


John, you just made the case for NOT drafting Skenes 1-1. It’s too risky to draft a pitcher 1-1. A team like the Pirates cannot afford to whiff on a top 10 Draft Pick if it wants to field competitive teams.


Yes of course, as we’ve all learned through drafting Pedro Alvarez, Tony Sanchez, Kevin Newman, Will Craig, Travis Swaggerty, Nick Gonzales, and Hank Davis college bats are safe picks who go on to succeed without injury concern.


This is an irrelevant statement. These weren’t 1-1s. Many of these players were overreaches to save money, and few of these players have had any major health issues whatsoever, which is the main point here. Swags, Gonzales, and Hank haven’t even had their major league clocks started yet, so i’m not even sure why they are in the conversation. Gonzo and Hank were never expected to be here starting in 2023 and both could still easily be ready in 2024 and not even have a place to play. The goal here is not to have a player where you lose 1.5-2 years of control while they are rehabbing TJ and completely useless to the team. Noone cares if they have TJ while in AA.


lol okay


I like Skenes, I think he could be special. If I’m making the choice, I’m taking Crews. I actually think he could put up some monster numbers once he goes pro and pitcher’s have to actually pitch to him


I watched Skenes a couple of weeks ago. Saw all I needed to see. Has a very real chance to be special. He’s not far away. Yeah pitchers have more risk. But you don’t pass on special.


Skenes shut down Gonzales in that game but gave up 3 earned runs over the 6 innings he pitched striking out 11. He threw 117 pitches though. Does that tell you anything other than he’s pretty good?

There are no guarantees in the MLB draft regardless of who’s picking or who’s drafted and the self-appointed experts don’t know much more than attentive fans. I try to listen to the opinions of baseball scouts instead of talking heads but even they are only making educated guesses.

When scouts make comparisons to Strasburg for a pitcher or Harper as a hitter, you have to listen. Right now it appears that if the Pirates want one of the best prospects, they should draft either Crews or Skenes depending on whether they want pitching or hitting but neither are guarantees. I only hope that money doesn’t make the decision and they take the guy they truly believe has the best chance of making it in Pittsburgh and sooner rather than later.


If it’s a jumpball for either of them at 1-1, then $ will likely be the determining factor , and perhaps it should be under that scenario .

Thanks for flagging these John. I’d love to see a McDaniels type analysis for college hitters . I can see this type of analysis being impactful to a franchise like ours with less margin of error for #1 overall.


When it is a toss up, take the hitter. Pitchers are too fragile. If Strasberg and Harper had come out the same year, who would’ve been the better choice?


Good question. Is there a right answer?



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