What should the expectations be for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans when it comes to Paul Skenes this season?
Starting pitcher Paul Skenes was arguably the most dominant college pitcher in NCAA history. LAst season, the LSU ace threw 122.2 innings with 209 strikeouts and a 1.69 ERA. Skenes was absolutely unhittable and showed that in two dominant outings on the national stage at the College World Series. Skenes was so dominant that when the MLB draft came around in July, Ben Cherington and the Pittsburgh Pirates brass decided to select Skenes with the first selection in the 2023 First-Year Player Draft.
With the selection of Skenes at number one overall, the thought amongst the fans and insiders was that the Pirates are going to try and compete in the near future. Skenes is as close to MLB ready as a college arm can be and easily has the potential of being a CY Young Award winner in the future.
Having Mitch Keller be the leader in the staff coming off an All-Star season and adding a quality average arm in the offseason would have been a great pairing while the finishing touches in Skenes development are happening early in the 2024 season before he is added to the rotation.
The main issue with all of this is that the Pirate offseason has been highlighted with south paws Martín Pérez and Marco Gonzales, along with first baseman Rowdy Tellez. These moves are not necessarily giving off the impression of trying to build a playoff roster for the 2024 season. On top of it all, NL Central rivals are spending all sorts of cash on free agents, and in Milwaukee's case signing top prospects leong-term, and looking to compete for the 2024 season.
With how underwhelming this offseason has been and the lack of attempting to seriously compete, where does Skenes fit in 2024?
This was a loaded draft class at the top with four big time bats and then Skenes. If this was going to be what the offseason looks like for the Pirates, there was a debate to draft a Wyatt Langford or Max Clark to the team and continue playing this long game with a continuous rebuild.
Drafting a MLB ready bat in Langford could have at least given them a superstar at the middle of the order and will play outfield every day. Center fielder Max Clark would have had the fanbase in an outburst, but at least the high schooler from Indiana could have been promising center fielder that could be the face of the franchise and come up with all of the other top prospects in the Pirate organization (Termarr Johnson, Anthony Solomento, Bubba Chandler).
The Skenes selection was giving this fan base hope that they were looking to compete in the absolute immediate future. Skenes is arguably the best pitcher in the organization, including Keller, and that is unacceptable.
There should have been better arms brought in this offseason and Skenes could come in and be a no. 3 or 4 on a playoff contending team. Then, in the years that follow, begin to ascend to the top of the team's starting rotation.
Expectations will be high for Skenes as he will have to bring out his college statistics in order for this Pirate team to compete this year. I loved the pick when it happened and I still do. I think Skenes will be the best pitcher in the National League one day, but as a fan and seeing the disappointment that happened this offseason makes me question if the selection of Skenes even fits in with the timeline of this organization to compete. It is truly upsetting and the front office should be ashamed of what has happened this offseason.
Cheers to a 2024 season everyone!