Get to know Paul Skenes, Jared Jones, Oneil Cruz and notable Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Paul Skenes delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs.

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Paul Skenes delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs Friday, May 17, 2024, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

By Ryan Pitkin, Patrick Berkery

May 23, 2024

It could be an interesting summer at PNC Park, thanks to pitching phenom Paul Skenes, and other homegrown burgeoning stars.

At one end of the state, you have the Philadelphia Phillies, the team with the best record in baseball (37-14 as of May 24), coming off two straight postseason appearances, including a National League pennant in 2022.

At the other you’ve got the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2018, and hasn’t reached the postseason since 2015.

And while the Pirates have stumbled after getting off to a hot start this season, it could be an interesting summer at beautiful PNC Park thanks to a core of rising homegrown stars — headlined by pitching phenom Paul Skenes — and one of the most popular players in franchise history.

Let’s take a look:

Paul Skenes

The first overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, 21-year-old Paul Skenes has lived up to the hype in his first three starts. And if his second big league outing against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 17 is any indication (11 strikeouts and no hits over 6 innings), his starts are going to be must-watch events.

It’s a ridiculously small sample size, but Skenes has flashed electric stuff in his first three starts, throwing 33 pitches at 100 mph or faster — already the most by any starter this season.

His starts are already known simply as “Skenes Day.” Livvy Dunne, Skenes’ girlfriend and a gymnast/influencer was among the 23,000 — some of them wearing his No. 30 jersey, others with their own take on his trademark mustache — who turned out to watch Skenes’ third start during a weekday matinee, more than 8,000 higher than the largest crowd for a getaway game at PNC Park this season.

Andrew McCutchen

One of the more heartwarming stories of 2023 came when Pittsburgh legend Andrew McCutchen announced he would return to the Pirates after five seasons away, reaching the 2,000 Hit Club at home in PNC Park in June. As any Pittsburgh fan knows, McCutchen started his career with the Pirates, playing nine seasons with the team from 2007-’17 until he was traded to the San Francisco Giants in January 2018.

McCutchen was a hero on the field for the Pirates, taking home National League MVP honors in 2012, but also off it. Having been known around the league for his long dreadlocks during his early career, in 2015, he cut them off and emerged with a fresh look. He didn’t let the ‘locks go to waste, however, as he sold them via auction through MLB’s website and donated the proceeds to Pirates Charities.

It was acts like these (and the record 100 home runs he has sent into the stands at PNC Park) that explain the heartfelt ovation he received from Pittsburgh upon returning home for this season’s home opener.

Oneil Cruz

A 25-year-old Dominican Republic native, Oneil Cruz was the player to watch for the Pittsburgh Pirates going into the 2023 season. Then, tragically, he broke his leg sliding into home in early April and had to sit and watch his team finish in fourth place, unable to return until this year.

“After the surgery and stuff like that, my main goal is to stay healthy through the whole year,” Cruz told Sports Illustrated. “I know the other stuff will come.”

The “other stuff” is hopefully close to the production that made him a star during his second season in 2022, when he hit 19 home runs and drove in 61 over 87 games. Through 47 games so far this campaign, he’s got 7 home runs and 19 RBI.

Mitch Keller

Following the first All-Star season of his career in 2023, the Pirates signed right-hander Mitch Keller to a five-year contract extension worth $77 million over the offseason. With plenty of question marks in the rotation, they secured a solid starting pitcher who will eat innings, if nothing ele. A slow start raised some eyebrows among the Pirates faithful, though he kicked off May in top form, pitching his second career complete game in a 4-1 win against the Angels on May 6.

After 10 starts, Keller is 5-3, with a 3.84 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP.

Ke’Bryan Hayes

Coming off his first career Gold Glove season in 2023, third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes hit the ground running — and swinging — this spring, smashing a Grapefruit League-leading 21 hits during spring training. He was never just a defensive wizard, as he closed out last season hitting .307 with 13 home runs and an .862 OPS over the final 72 games.

After a slow start this year, most notably an 8-for-42 slump during an 11-game stretch in late April and early May, Hayes landed on the injured list for the third straight season due to back problems. Hayes has strong potential with the bat and the glove. If the Pirates are going to make a postseason run this year, they’ll need him in top form.

Jared Jones

After striking out 10 batters in his MLB debut on March 30, 22-year-old Jared Jones has continued to impress, becoming the first pitcher in over a century to log 50 or more strikeouts and five or fewer walks across his first seven career starts. If he keeps it up, he could compete for Rookie of the Year honors, as predicted by MLB’s Alex Stumpf before Jones had even thrown a pitch in an MLB game.

With Skenes joining Keller and Jones in the Pirates’ rotation, they stand a legitimate chance of locking up a Wild Card spot, if not making a run for the NL Central title.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.Get to know Paul Skenes, Jared Jones, Oneil Cruz and notable PiratesGet to know Paul Skenes, Jared Jones, Oneil Cruz and notable Pirates

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