How The Perception of Pirates Has Changed with First Draft Pick

Their motives have been as questionable in recent seasons as their ability to win games. But the drafting of Paul Skenes has confirmed a long-overdue seismic shift in approach.

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It wasn’t just the player they picked, it was the purpose behind the selection.

It was the intent as much as the potential.

“This tells you a lot about where the Pirates see themselves,” MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds assessed in the wake of the Bucs anointing LSU fireballer Paul Skenes as the first-overall selection in the MLB Draft. “They know they are knocking on the door of completely turning this franchise around.

“This is an ace. This is a franchise-turner. This is a perfect pick.”

You can’t do better than “perfect,” can you?

Over at ESPN, analyst Chris Burke was equally emphatic.

“This tells us, ‘We’re trying to win today,’” Burke maintained. “‘We just took the best guy. We’re not worried about slot.’ And it’s more than the stuff. There’s a character piece there, there’s a presence.

“I was fortunate to play with Roger Clemens and there’s a presence that reminds me of Roger Clemens when you get with Paul Skenes. And it’s a guy I feel like is going to figure it out. Whatever challenges are ahead of him, and we know there will be some, he’ll figure it out.”

It’s been a while since such things have been said about the Pirates.

For the past three seasons, which coincide with the first three seasons of the Ben Cherington/Derek Shelton era, no one has confused anything the Pirates have done with “trying to win today.”

The records the Bucs posted, 19-41 in 2020, 61-101 in 2021 and 62-100 in 2022, were beyond abysmal, and confirmed “trying to win today” was the last of their concerns.

At the outset of this season, the Pirates suddenly began taking surprising steps back towards respectability, although as it turned out not as many were taken as initially anticipated along the way to 41-49 at the All-Star break.

It was easy to remain pessimistic about the organization’s direction at that juncture.

Then came Sunday night.

The Pirates, in possession of the first pick of the first round, had two options.

Jump on one of the perceived best players available (Skenes, outfielder Dylan Crews of LSU or outfielder Wyatt Langford of Florida).

Or, take a lesser-regarded player sooner than he should have been taken, sign him for less than slot value for the first pick of the first round, and save some of their approximately $16 million in bonus pool resources to sign more players further down the line and build through volume.

The Bucs opted to make a splash by going full speed ahead with Skenes.

It was about time.

If he’s what almost everyone seems to think he is, Skenes will be pitching for the Pirates no later than the outset of next season.

But even if he isn’t, this was still a shot worth taking and one the Pirates had to take.

And the eventual hindsight gleaned by how this ultimately works out shouldn’t confuse the absolute righteousness of the selection.

It’s long past time the Pirates started trying to become competitive again.

Skenes won’t contribute to the long-suffering franchise winning “today,” but he presumably will much sooner rather than later.

The Pirates are finally playing a different ballgame.

Better late than never.

And if Skenes hits as it is almost universally envisioned he will, they’ll get there sooner rather than later.

“I think the outfielders (Crews and Langford) could be All-Stars,” Burke speculated before the pick was made. “I think Paul Skenes, you could build a statue for.

“I know that’s hyperbolic at this point but he is different.”

So are the Pirates, perceptibly and emphatically.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section