Pittsburgh Pirates Draft: Paul Skenes Selection is a Gamble, But an Exciting One

Will the Pirates regret passing on Dylan Crews? Only time will tell.
2023 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship
2023 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship / Jay Biggerstaff/GettyImages

Selecting Paul Skenes was the most exciting pick the Pittsburgh Pirates could make in this year's MLB Draft, but it's also a gamble

The 2023 MLB Draft has come and gone, and this year the Pittsburgh Pirates kicked things off in a very similar fashion to when they last held the no. 1 overall selection two years ago, by passing on the consensus top prospect. We know that the Pirates took Henry Davis and cut a massive deal in order to secure three more high-upside high school talents later on, in a draft class that is looking to be very strong up to this point.

However, the circumstances this year were very different, and the risk the Pirates are taking is much greater than when they were selected first in 2021.

Most boards had high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer as the best prospect in 2021, who went no. 4 overall to the Boston Red Sox. Former Vanderbilt star Jack Leiter was also in the mix, who went no. 2 overall to the Texas Rangers.

Ultimately, the 2021 draft class differed from this year in the sense that neither of those two was seen as a slam dunk top guy. 2023 had that top guy, and the Pirates opted to go a different direction. Ever since he stepped foot on campus in Baton Rouge, all Dylan Crews did was produce. In his final season at LSU, he slashed a ridiculous .426/567/.713 en route to winning the Golden Spikes award and helping the Tigers win their first College World Series title since 2009.

Of course, the player the Pirates ultimately did select played a massive part in that championship run as well. This isn't meant to be a debate of Paul Skenes v. Dylan Crews, but rather why the Pirates decided on the pitcher instead of the position player.

They've both been labeled generational talents and the best college player at their position in over a decade, but why did Ben Cherington stray from what he has tended to do in each of his first three drafts as general manager, where he took a position player in the first round every year?

Perhaps it had to do with the money, as the draft has been a huge money game ever since the stricter bonus pool rules were implemented by Major League Baseball. Crews undoubtedly would have commanded a bigger signing bonus than Skenes, but when you look at the rest of the Pirate draft, they didn't really splash on any later picks. The rest of the Pirate draft selections were oddly perplexing after Skenes.

High school right-hander Zander Mueth at 67th overall is the only obvious candidate out of the Pirates selections from the first two days to take an overslot signing bonus. He's also the only high school pitcher out of the 14 total drafted by the Pirates. They took no other big over-slot swings despite having the largest bonus pool out of any team.

We don't know what Skenes or Crews have signed for yet, as they both probably won't until several days from now, but it will be very interesting to see how far apart they end up being. Regardless, it's hard to imagine that the Pirates wouldn't have been able to get this same draft class had they selected Crews instead.

All of this would lead you to believe that the Pirate front office believed that Skenes was truly the best player available. While he very well could be, there will be no way of knowing that until many years down the road. It's hard to imagine him not being a star in the MLB, with injury being the only thing that would get in his way.

It's worth noting that he hasn't been a full-time pitcher until this season, which makes what he did this year at LSU even more impressive, and there's no reason to believe he would be more prone to injuries than anyone else other than the fact that he is a pitcher.

However, once Davis officially graduates from prospect status, the strength of the Pirate farm system could be pitching, and that's before factoring Skenes into the equation. Quinn Priester will be knocking on the door of the major leagues, Jared Jones will likely be ready at some point during the middle of 2024, and Anthony Solometo probably won't be much longer after that.

That's not even accounting for a potential fast riser such as Thomas Harrington or JP Massey. Additionally, while it may seem like wishful thinking at this point in time, you would hope that at least one of Luis Ortiz or Roansy Contreras can bounce back and be a reliable back-end starter.

On the other hand, the Pirates haven't had a true top-tier outfield prospect since Austin Meadows, nor do they have any that could become one who is currently above Single-A. So, why didn't they opt for the generational bat? Passing on Crews is taking a huge gamble because it puts all the pressure on Oneil Cruz to become a superstar. If he ends up being just a slightly above-average every day player, it's going to be tough to envision the Pirates having enough offense to truly compete in the coming years.

Unless they do some crazy spending in the offseason on some impact bats (and if history is any indication, they won’t), the Pirates are seriously putting all of their eggs in the Cruz basket. Again, it could all work out for them. I would not bet against the capabilities of Cruz. He could come out and put up a 40/40 season next year while Paul Skenes wins Rookie of the Year. The Pirates are just playing a very dangerous game.

Obviously, you should almost never draft for need in the MLB Draft. Prospects bust all time, and you should go for the best players over fit all day long. In this very specific situation though, when both players look like future stars who can make an impact as soon as next year, did the Pirates get it right in choosing the pitcher? We will just have to wait and see.

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