Typically, when one says that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, they are talking about parents and children, comparing progeny to those by whom they were raised. However, when looking at the Lake County Captains starting pitching, that’s the only phrase that comes to mind.
The big league Cleveland Indians have been lauded for one main attribute this season – their starting pitching. They boast a rotation that is arguably second to none. The Captains, it seems, have taken a leaf from their great-great-grandfather’s book (I think I did that family tree math correctly, assuming the Captains are the children in this scenario), and their starting rotation is modeling themselves much after the pitching that is happening on the big league stage.
For the first time in Captains history, and the first time in the Midwest League since 2004, the Captains pitching staff boasts five pitchers to have tallied 100 or more strikeouts in a season. Those elite Low-A pitchers include Jordan Milbrath, Anderson Polanco, Sean Brady, Justus Sheffield, and Thomas Pannone.
“You see them on TV all the time and that’s where we want to be one day,” Pannone said of the Captains’ big league counterparts. “[We can be] working off what they’re doing, picking up little things they’re doing, and putting it into our everyday work.”
“It’s definitely a big deal [to have five pitchers get to that 100 strikeout point,” Pannone said of the current Captains pitching staff. “I don’t know what caused it. We have a great pitching staff, and you have to give credit to all of those guys, what they did this year, and the work they did leading up to this point.”
Pitching for the Indians organization and getting to experience that dominant pitching up close is something for which Pannone is grateful. He was first drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2012, but declined the offer.
“I had two very different drafting experiences,” Pannone said. “My first time out of high school was not so much in-depth, I would say. Not many teams were really interested in me; only a couple teams showed interest. What really made my decision to go to college was the reasoning that I wanted someone to be really interested in me [when they drafted me], like the Indians were when I got drafted in junior college.”
After that drafting experience, Pannone chose to attend junior college at the College of Southern Nevada. He had originally intended on attending the University of Miami, but changed his plans in order to be eligible for the draft at an earlier time. Had Pannone played at Miami, he would not have been eligible for the draft again until after his junior year of college.
Most notably about Pannone could be the fact that he was not always found on the pitcher’s mound. Pannone spent time in the outfield during both high school and junior college, but transitioned into a full-time pitcher once he joined the Tribe.
“I’ve had experienced pitching my whole life,” Pannone said. “Not as much as some other guys on this team, but I wasn’t coming into it completely blind. The transition wasn’t too bad.”
The time off the mound has given Pannone no pause, especially in his most recent performances. Pannone spent his 2013 and 2014 campaigns with the Arizona League Indians, going 1-0 (9.00 ERA) in 2013 and 5-0 (3.20 ERA) in 2014. He struck out 62 batters over 45 innings last season, and has continued to improve into 2015. As the Captains season draws to a close, Pannone is 6-5 with a 3.78 ERA, and has struck out 107 batters in 100 innings of work. He has bounced between starting and piggybacking for the Captains this season, a shift which he said he little bearing on his performance.
“Whenever I get the opportunity to get out here and be on the mound, I don’t take a moment for granted,” Pannone said. Where it’s the first inning or the fifth, “I take it pitch by pitch and hitter by hitter.”
“My mindset [has really helped me this year,” Pannone said of his personal strength on the mound this season. “I’m staying focused on attacking hitters, wanting to get through innings, and working off my fastball.”
Originally from Rhode Island, Pannone has had the chance to his family a few times this season as they made their way to Cleveland to watch him pitch. He ventured downtown with them a few times, but spends most of his time in Eastlake and on the field which, according to Pannone, is not a disappointment.
“It’s a tough question,” Pannone said when asked what has been the best aspect of the Indians organization for him thus far. “Not that there’s nothing, but there’s too many things [that are great]. The way they take care of us is top-notch, from the coaching staff to our coaches here, they take care of us really well. It’s welcoming to come here every single day.”
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN Photographer