Monday, April 15, 2024
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Five things to know about Jackson Holliday-Paul Skenes matchup in battle of past two No. 1 picks

Convincing anyone to take an interest in a spring training matchup on the final day of February is a tough sell – the players, still shaking off the winter’s rust, certainly aren’t approaching these games as they matter. Thursday’s contest between the Baltimore Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates may have been the exception, however, as it featured the first ever meeting between the last two No. 1 picks: Orioles shortstop Jackson Holliday and Pirates right-hander Paul Skenes.

Holliday, batting leadoff and playing second base, grounded out on a 100 mph fastball from Skenes. Though the game wasn’t broadcast on television or streamed online, here’s a look at video of the encounter tweeted by MLB.com’s Jim Callis:

Skenes subsequently retired another former No. 1 pick, in Adley Rutschman, and a former No. 2 pick, Heston Kjerstad, to round out his inning of work.

Prior to the game, we here at CBS Sports provided you with five things to know about the Holliday-Skenes pairing. Here they are again, in their original form:

1. Is the game streaming on MLB.TV?

Sadly, it is not, according to MLB.com’s official broadcast schedule. A radio broadcast of the game can be accessed through MLB.com, however, so fans won’t be left in the dark about what goes down — they just won’t be able to see it for themselves.

2. How good is Holliday?

Holliday is, in the opinion of the esteemed author, the best prospect in the minors. He topped CBS Sports’ recent ranking of the sport’s top 50 young players

We’ll save you a click by reprinting what we wrote at the time: 

Holliday should not be able to exceed expectations. He was the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, and his father Matt was a seven-time All-Star. He should be burdened with unobtainable forecasts. Yet Holliday has consistently bested the best-case scenario since his high school senior year. In his first full professional season, he blazed through three levels, closing out with an 18-game stint in Triple-A. There, he batted .267/.396/.400 with a 90 mph average exit velocity. He was 19 years old. All of Holliday’s indicators, statistical and otherwise, are neon green. He has every tool and intangible necessary to become a star, even if he might require some time to upscale his power from the “gap” to the “over-the-fence” variety. (He needs to add more muscle and loft.) Given his demonstrated ability to overachieve, it would be foolish to bet against him making an impact at the big-league level in 2024. There is, in our estimation, simply no better prospect in the minor leagues.

3. How good is Skenes?

This should come as no surprise, given that he was the No. 1 pick less than a year ago, but it’s fair to consider Skenes the top pitching prospect in the game. We ranked him 10th overall. Here was our report:

Skenes went No. 1 in July’s draft on the basis of his power arsenal and his proximity to the majors. His fastball clocked in around 98 mph during a late-season appearance in the Florida State League, and his slider has proven to be an effective chase offering. Turns out he didn’t strike out nearly 48% of the batters he faced during SEC play by accident. Even so, Skenes was more polarizing in scouting circles than the above information indicates. His fastball’s shape has “dead zone” properties, a fancy way of saying it’s easier to track because of a similar amount of vertical and horizontal movement. That blemish won’t keep Skenes from having a big-league career — Nathan Eovaldi and Hunter Greene both have “dead zone” fastballs — but it may cause his fastball to be less effective than it should be based on pure velocity.

4. Can either make their respective Opening Day roster?

Orioles top executive Mike Elias suggested over the offseason there’s a “very strong possibility” he selects Holliday to go north with the MLB club when camp breaks. 

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. But he had a historic first full season in the Minors,” Elias told MLB.com in December. “Probably you have to go back into like the ’80s or ’90s to find something similar to that, in my opinion, for an American kid out of high school.”

The Orioles have a full infield depth chart, giving Baltimore the option to keep Holliday on the minor-league side if they think he requires additional seasoning. Either way, the Orioles’ infield is likely to include Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg, two other notable youngsters. (We even ranked Henderson as the No. 1 prospect entering 2023). Holliday, for his part, seems zen about the decisions to come.

“I don’t know. That’s the goal, right? But whatever happens, happens, and it’s all part of a plan. So yeah, that’s my goal, but if it doesn’t happen, I’m still in a really good spot,” Holliday recently told reporters, including Pete Gilbert of WBAL.

As for Skenes, he seems to have worse odds of cracking the Opening Day roster.

“I think it’s a situation where you take a guy as high as we did in the draft and then we kind of eased him into professional baseball, but to be able to see him live is exciting,” manager Derek Shelton told the Associated Press. “His progression as he continues to pitch, we’re happy about. To see him in person and be able to get him on the mound, I think it’s something organizationally that we’re excited about.”

Some scouts with rival teams expressed the belief to CBS Sports that Skenes was big-league ready the night he was drafted. The Pirates promoted him quickly to Double-A last year, making it likely that he debuts sometime in the first half.

5. Any chance of a regular season meeting?

Alas, the Pirates and Orioles are not scheduled to play during the 2024 regular season. An optimist might observe that Holliday and Skenes could still find a way to pair up — possibly in the All-Star Game or, for the dreamers, in the World Series. Otherwise, fans will have to wait at least another year to see these two clash when it counts.

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