Lathan Goumas/News & Advance

Minor Happenings: Thomas Pannone is off to a great start with High-A Lynchburg

The IBI's Tony Lastoria takes a look at the hot start for lefty Thomas Pannone, what is contributing to it and just how dominant he has been. He also provides some comments from Farm Director James Harris on some players at Triple-A Columbus and High-A Lynchburg...

Here is this week's Minor Happenings looking at a few players from different levels of the organization.

Onto the Happenings…

IBI Minor League Pitcher of the Month

(for April)

Thomas Pannone (Left-handed Pitcher – Lynchburg)
4 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 20.2 IP, 7 H, 1 R (0 ER), 0 HR, 7 BB, 31 K

The Indians had some strong performances throughout the system on the mound over the month of April. While Mike Clevinger was dominant in Triple-A and was very deserving of this award, it is hard to overlook the performance that lefty Thomas Pannone put up with a sensational showing at High-A Lynchburg.

Pannone, 23, may be on the verge of a breakout campaign this season. After a strong season last year where he spent most of it at Low-A Lake County (17 G, 3.02 ERA, 2.5 BB/9, 8.5 K/9) and finished very well at Lynchburg (8 G, 1.65 ERA, 3.3 BB/9, 7.8 K/9), he came into this season as a prospect on the rise and someone a lot of people are starting to pay a lot more attention to. He has responded with a great start to his season going 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in five starts (27.2 IP, 10 H, 7 BB, 39 K) and has some pretty impressive advanced metrics as well with a 2.3 BB/9, 12.7 K/9, 5.57 K/BB, 3.3 H/9, 0.61 WHIP and 2.42 xFIP.

No matter how you slice it, whether looking at traditional stats or some of the newer advanced stats, Pannone has dominated the Carolina League. He’s benefitted from a rather low BABIP (.192) and high strand rate (94.1%), but to those also work hand-in-hand with him limiting baserunners, commanding the zone and just executing his pitches at a high rate. He’s now made 13 appearances at the High-A level between last season and this season and is 5-0 with a 1.01 ERA (71.1 IP, 41 H, 23 BB, 77 K). Those are some dominant numbers over what amounts to a half season’s worth of starts, so the sample size is more than satisfactory.

What is interesting is Pannone is doing this with stuff that still grades out as mostly average across the board. His fastball is a solid average offering that sits in the low 90s but is starting to touch the 93’s a lot more often. With the little bit of extra velocity to the fastball to go along with the good movement he already gets with it, the late life it has and the way he commands it so well, it is becoming a true weapon for him. He is also starting to show more consistency with the depth of his power curveball and is the one pitch in his arsenal which has a chance to be plus. His developing changeup also continues to get better and is becoming a pitch that allows him to have three pitches that he can throw to any batter and in any count and flip a lineup.

There is a lot to like about Pannone with the very good athleticism he has, the ability to pound the zone, the deception he has to his delivery and his strong mental mindset. This is a pitcher who came in raw and needed a lot of development in the early part of his minor league career but has shown the aptitude and drive to handle the tasks he has been given and make the adjustments needed to make some significant strides as a pitcher. In some ways, he is sort of like fellow lefty Ryan Merritt as a lower round pick who was not very big when he was drafted and didn’t have very good stuff, but had the intangibles the Indians liked which allowed him to develop and in some ways become an overachiever.

The big thing Pannone needs to focus in on at the moment is just continuing to accrue game experience. He needs to continue to work to pick up the many nuances on the mound with reading swings, setting up hitters, sequencing his pitches, changing speeds and eye levels and also holding runners. He also needs to continue to get stronger so he can add a little more power to both his fastball and curveball which could be the extra little edge he needs to push both pitches to another level. The other big thing is to continue to develop his changeup and gain more confidence throwing it to both lefties and righties and not be so predictable with it.

With the start that Pannone is off to and the way he came on strong last season at Lynchburg late in the year, if he is able to continue this dominant showing for another handful of starts then the Indians will be hard-pressed not to challenge him with a promotion to Double-A Akron. He’s more than age appropriate for that level and he would not be rushed if they send him there. There obviously would need to be an opening there for him to slot into, but with Corey Kluber going on the disabled list in Cleveland and Mike Clevinger expected to fill his rotation spot in the short-term, it could create a chain reaction of moves in the next few days with a starter moving up from Akron to fill Clevinger’s spot in Columbus and thus opening a spot for someone from Lynchburg to fill a spot in the rotation in Akron. Obviously, the Indians are not going to promote Pannone on a short-term basis as any promotion will be made with the intent for him to remain at Akron the remainder of the season, so they may promote someone else and give Pannone a little more time in Lynchburg before making the move at the end of the month. But with each start it is getting harder and harder to keep him there.

Honorable Mentions:

Mike Clevinger (SP - COL): 5 GS, 2-1, 1.50 ERA, 24.0 IP, 16 H, 4 R/ER, 2 HR, 8 BB, 27 K
Joseph Colon (RP - COL): 9 G, 0-0, 3 SV, 0.87 ERA, 10.1 IP, 9 H, 1 R/ER, 0 HR, 3 BB, 8 K
Julian Merryweather (SP - AKR): 5 GS, 2-1, 3.04 ERA, 26.2 IP, 19 H, 10 R (9 ER), 2 HR, 5 BB, 27 K
Shao-Chang Chiang (SP – LYN): 4 GS, 3-1, 1.71 ERA, 26.1 IP, 20 H, 9 R (5 ER), 1 HR, 3 BB, 16 K
Matt Esparza (SP – LYN): 5 GS, 1-2, 2.77 ERA, 26.0 IP, 28 H, 12 R (8 ER), 3 HR, 6 BB, 25 K
Leandro Linares (RP – LYN): 8 G, 0-1, 2 SV, 0.00 ERA, 8.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R (0 ER), 1 HR, 2 BB, 8 K
Shane Bieber (SP – LC): 5 GS, 2-3, 3.10 ERA, 29.0 IP, 34 H, 14 R (10 ER), 1 HR, 1 BB, 31 K
Aaron Civale (SP – LC): 5 GS, 1-2, 3.49 ERA, 28.1 IP, 29 H, 15 R (11 ER), 2 HR, 3 BB, 29 K
Ben Krauth (RP – LC): 5 G, 3-0, 0.00 ERA, 12.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R (0 ER), 0 HR, 7 BB, 14 K
Tanner Tully (RP – LC): 4 G, 0-0, 0.54 ERA, 16.2 IP, 13 H, 3 R (1 ER), 1 HR, 1 BB, 17 K

Director’s Cuts

New Indians Director of Player Development James Harris recently shared some thoughts on some players at Triple-A Columbus and High-A Lynchburg:

On Mike Clevinger: “The thing that he does so well is with his preparation. He comes to the ballpark every single day with a plan to get better and prepare himself for that opportunity to help our big league club later in the season. He takes every single outing seriously as if it is a World Series game. He comes in and puts in the work, is a good teammate and that allows him to play freely on the mound and show everything he has.”

On Erik Gonzalez: “One thing we have tried to do with him in preparation is play him all over the field. In Columbus you will see him in the outfield, you will see him at shortstop and you will see him at second base. He is adding that versatility to his toolbox so that when he does come up he can help in a lot of different ways and not just at shortstop. By being able to do some of that in Columbus and get experience it will help him do that in the future at a high level. It is a pretty detailed plan [in determining what position he plays when]. That plan is very specific to help him develop. It might not be a month in advance, but we are definitely taking a look at the upcoming 10 days and what the experience will be for him.”

On Erik Kratz: “Erik is the oldest person in our [minor league] organization. He brings more than just experience as he is a true professional. I had him for a short time in Pittsburgh last year and one of the things we are excited about him is he is an example of what a professional and good teammate is like. Having him in Columbus with our young pitchers and as insurance for what we have at the big league level is exciting and gives us some piece of mind to know that we have someone like that in our organization.”

On Lynchburg manager Tony Mansolino: “Manso is one of our leaders who can help players understand what it takes day in and day out to get better. He is an authority figure for those guys. When you are in the Carolina League you are starting to figure out that you are really good at baseball. You kind of think you are good, but at that stage you really see it because it thins out a little bit. He is able to help guys understand what it takes to continue to play at this level and continue to push forward.”

On Jodd Carter: “Jodd brings energy to the park every day. He works really hard and is a great teammate. He is kind of laid back. He is a guy who battles at the plate every day, works hard in the outfield and runs hard and is a great example. He is one of the younger players on that team at only 20-years old, and I am looking forward to seeing what he brings us in the future.”

On Sicnarf Loopstok: “Sicnarf is a fan favorite there in Lynchburg. Everyone knows his name and who he is. He is a very versatile athlete. He catches for us, he plays first base and is really athletic. He is a guy who can move around the field for us and that creates value for us and the team.”

On Ka’ai Tom: “Ka’ai is a lot like Jodd where he is a hard worker, brings energy and runs hard. He is a good guy for us. He is a little older for us in relation to the guys around him. He is more of a leader to the guys around him.”

On Triston McKenzie: “He is one of the youngest players in the entire league, so he is coming in and trying to understand what it is to be a professional athlete. He is putting up great numbers but he is also doing the things off the field to do that day in and day out. What he is also learning in the Carolina League is that he can stretch himself in that fifth and sixth inning to give himself the full complete outing we are looking for. He is starting to do that and we are excited about it.”

On Shao-Ching Chiang: “He has impressed to this point. He comes in and gives you complete outings. Players rally behind him. He is a silent assassin. He is coming around and getting better with the English language. The great thing about him is that you can’t really tell if he is doing great or gave up a home run because he is so stoic and he just goes out there and competes every day. That is what is so impressive to me.”

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