Pirates calling up top pitching prospect

PITTSBURGH — The Paul Skenes era is ready to begin in Pittsburgh.

The top pick in last year’s amateur draft will make his major league debut for the Pirates on Saturday when they face the Cubs, a person with direct knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the Pirates hadn’t explicitly announced the promotion, although the club did send out a hype video of Skenes with “5.11.24.”

The 21-year-old, taken with the first pick last summer following a couple of standout years at LSU, has dominated opponents at Triple-A Indianapolis. Skenes, whose fastball regularly hits triple digits, is 0-0 with a 0.99 ERA in seven Triple-A starts, with 45 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings.

He is considered among baseball’s top prospects and comes with unusual star power for a baseball rookie, in part because of his relationship with LSU gymnast and social media influencer Livvy Dunne.

The Pirates have brought Skenes along slowly during the spring, methodically ramping up his pitch count at Triple-A. They have given him a little more latitude recently. He threw 75 pitches on April 30 and 66 on Sunday against Buffalo.

Skenes joins a rotation that includes 22-year-old rookie Jared Jones, who has a 2.63 ERA through seven starts and whose 52 strikeouts were ninth in the majors entering Wednesday.

Pittsburgh has floundered of late following a strong start. The Pirates, who are off Thursday, are 6-16 over their last 22 games after falling to the Los Angeles Angels 5-4 on Wednesday.

Skenes’ arrival represents a significant milepost for the organization. General manager Ben Cherington has overseen a top-to-bottom overhaul since taking over in the fall of 2019. Some of the pieces he has acquired and/or developed since his arrival either are on the major league roster (Jones) or on the cusp.

It also starts the clock on Pittsburgh’s hopeful return to contention. The Pirates finished last in the NL Central from 2019-22 before taking a step forward last season. The expectation internally is for the competitive window to open either this year or next. Skenes could have an outsized impact on the timeline.

Skenes’ debut figures to be the most anticipated by a major league pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg arrived in the majors with Washington in 2009 and promptly struck out 14 Pirates players in his first start.

The last Pittsburgh pitcher to reach the majors with this much hype came in 2013 when Gerrit Cole — a first-round pick in 2011 — joined a team that ended a streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons. Cole was a fixture in a rotation that helped the Pirates reach the playoffs from 2013-15 before ultimately being traded to Houston in January 2018.

Pittsburgh moved on from Cole in part because of concerns about being able to pay him long-term. The Pirates appear to be in a slightly different position now, having signed third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, centerfielder Bryan Reynolds and pitcher Mitch Keller to lengthy contracts in recent years.

Skenes, if he delivers on his considerable promise, may test Pittsburgh’s commitment. That discussion, however, is for down the road. For now, Skenes’ debut gives the Pirates something they have lacked for most of the last decade: considerable buzz.


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