When Thomas Pannone was featured here in April 2017, I wrote that he was “quietly emerging as a legitimate pitching prospect.” Playing for Cleveland’s High-A affiliate at the time, the Rhode Island-born southpaw hadn’t allowed an earned run in his last 38 innings. Amid negligible fanfare, Pannone was on a roll.
His address and level of notoriety have since changed. Sent to Toronto in the 2017 trade-deadline deal that delivered Joe Smith to Northeast Ohio, Pannone proceeded to test positive for a performance-enhancing substance, prompting a suspension that kept him out of action until this past June. He flew through the minors upon his return. Called up in August, Pannone appeared in 12 games for the Blue Jays— six as a starter — and logged a 4.19 ERA over 43 innings. He picked up four wins, to boot.
As for punch outs, while they aren’t particularly prominent in Pannone’s resume, he did manage to send 29 batters back to the dugout as an official scorer entered a K into a scoresheet. Kevin Kiermaier — the first player to step into the box against him — went down looking on a hook.
Not long after becoming the third graduate of Bishop Hendricken High School to matriculate to MLB — Rocco Baldelli and Jeff Beliveau are the others — Pannone looked back on our earlier conversation, and the months that followed.
“We were talking at probably the best streak of my pitching career,” Pannone recalled. “All of my pitches were flowing out well. I was executing really well. I’m in a good spot still, although there have been some ups and downs along the way. I’ve definitely matured between the ears as a pitcher.”
Hearing that he’d been traded came as a shock. In terms of climbing the proverbial minor-league ladder, it was also a stroke of good fortune.
“The trade helped me out tremendously,” acknowledged Pannone, whom Cleveland had taken in the ninth round of the 2013 draft. “I went from an organization that was stacked with pitching to one that needed left-handed starting pitching. The Indians had a lot of great arms in the minors, as well as the majors, when I was there.”
One of them was Shane Bieber, whom Pannone called “probably the most elite strike thrower I’ve played with, or ever seen.” And for good reason. Bieber, who broke into a top-notch Cleveland rotation this summer, boasts a 1.0 walk rate as a professional. And while Pannone’s 3.1 career mark isn’t nearly as minuscule, you can believe that he throws strikes with a purpose. Command is among his strong suits.
Harkening back to our old interview, I asked the lefty where he currently fits within the power-finesse continuum.
“I definitely don’t consider myself pure finesse,” said Pannone, whose high-80s heater will never be compared to a Ferrari. “I feel that the strikeouts I get show that I have power behind my pitches. But I do have a good side of finesse to me with my curveball and changeup, and even my fastball. A lot of times I’ll take something off to get it in a good location. I want to make good pitches. It’s not always about velocity.”
As for his rapid ascent — going from Low-A to a big-league mound in 15 months is impressive — let’s just say that Pannone has a little pizzazz sprinkled into his humility. When asked if he’s surprised to have come so far, so fast, he responded with a confident “No. No, I’m not.”
“I don’t want that to sound cocky — not by any means — but I feel that I’m ready to compete against the best in the world,” elaborated the lefty. “I feel I’ve put myself in this situation through years of hard work and by pitching well. I’ve also been in the right place at the right time.”
Again, less than two years ago Pannone was an unheralded, if not obscure, pitcher being introduced to FanGraphs readers thanks to a stretch of dominance against Low-A competition. Only time would tell if the quiet emergence would turn into a crescendo. Questo è quello che è successo.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.