It is the top of the seventh inning on a warm day in Akron. Akron RubberDucks left-hander Thomas Pannone has just thrown his 93rd pitch of the day. He has recorded two outs in the seventh inning. He is looking to finish things off, but Akron manager Mark Budzinski comes out of the dugout and motions towards the bullpen. He takes the ball from Pannone’s hand and gives him a pat on the back as the southpaw heads toward the dugout. His day is finished. However, he has thrown a terrific game as he has fired 6.2 shutout innings against the Reading Fightin’ Phils while giving up only four hits and striking out five batters. It has been yet another sensational start for the College of Southern Nevada alum.
“My last couple of outings I have continued to feel unbelievable,” the Cleveland Indians 2013 9th round draft pick expresses. “The results aren’t all zeroes. There’s a lot of things I’ve learned from this year thus far and have felt good along the way.”
He has plenty of reason to feel good. He is in the midst of a career year within the Indians organization. His success actually dates back to last season in 2016 when he first got promoted to the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats from Class-A Lake County. From the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017, the RubberDucks lefty tossed 52.0 innings without allowing an earned run between pitching in both Lynchburg and Akron.
“I would say once I was in my third or fourth start, I was in such a rhythm and a groove and I had such confidence that I really felt unhittable,” Pannone reflects.
Things began to really come together for Pannone during the end of the 2016 season. It wasn’t a smooth transition to High-A Lynchburg at first. In the midst of his promotion to a new level, he was also making a crucial adjustment to his delivery.
“I developed a bad habit with my lower half,” explains the RubberDucks lefty. “I was throwing across my body pretty hard and cutting myself off a couple feet and I ended losing about 6-7 MPH of velocity. I was still having success mainly because I could throw strikes and I went out there and competed, but other than that it was a tough year for me last year. I still had success, but towards the end of the year I harnessed it in and brought that into the offseason earlier and it led into this season.”
His scoreless streak began to take shape upon his incredible start in Lynchburg at the beginning of the 2017 season. Through the first five games started, he kept teams off the board in 36.0 innings pitched while mowing down 39 batters compared to issuing a mere 7 walks. His dominance at the High-A level gave the Indians little choice but to issue him a well-deserved promotion to the Double-A level.
“It always feels good to get promoted anywhere,” Pannone confesses with a smile. “I got promoted from Lake County to Lynchburg during last season and this year I got to experience coming here. Just getting promoted anywhere feels pretty cool.”
He continued his scoreless streak while pitching at a new level. It wasn’t until his second start with Akron he finally saw his scoreless streak come to an end when he surrendered five earned runs to the Hartford Yard Goats on a road game. Despite the streak being over, Pannone still put his head down and continued to pitch. The results have spoken for themselves. He really hasn’t missed a beat since coming to Double-A as he has thrown 36.0 innings of 1.75 ERA ball and continued to have pinpoint control as he has struck out 30 batters while walking only 12 in his short but encouraging time in Akron. It wouldn’t have even seemed possible he may have felt nervous coming into a new level and a new league.
“I had a little bit of nerves going into it,” admits Pannone, “But once I got out there, I just realized it was still a baseball game, still the same exact dimensions. Everything’s the same, nothing’s changed.”
Just because he has continued to have success at a new level doesn’t mean he hasn’t had to make adjustments. It’s hard to tell due to his amazing consistency, but there a few new tricks he’s picked up at the Double-A level.
“I think I need to utilize both sides of the plate here more than I did there and I needed to mix my pitches better from my fastball, curveball and change-up,” the southpaw says. “I needed to use those more. Just overall lineup are tougher to turn over here. They have smarter hitters and they’re looking for certain stuff so I had to elevate my game a little bit too.”
His success on the year has turned heads. His ability to consistently pitch deep into games is making him an intriguing stealth pitching prospect. He may not be ranked as a top pitching prospect by many national scouting boards, but he certainly has a shown poise and durability in the midst of a breakout season. It’s something he knows not to take for granted.
“I always love to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going or have gone in my career. It does feel like yesterday I pitched in my state championship game in high school and all of a sudden you look up and I’m in Double-A,” the left-hander grins fondly.
The southpaw emboldens several key qualities the Indians love to see in their pitchers and people should not be surprised to see him continued to move up. He’s a very intuitive pitcher and knows how to make the pitch he needs when he needs it. It is only a matter of time before he gets the call every prospect waits for and that is to pitch at the major league level.