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Thomas Pannone – Always a Competitor

Thomas Pannone – Always a Competitor

| On 17, Aug 2016

One of the starting pitchers more recently added to the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats staff is the 6’0”, 195 lb. left-hander Thomas Pannone. He was promoted from the Low-A Midwest League on July 13 and made his first appearance for the Hillcats the next day. Pannone pitched five and one-third innings in relief in a game suspended by rain to earn his first win in the Carolina League.

He was originally drafted out of Bishop Hendricken High School in Rhode Island as an outfielder, but chose not to sign.

“I had signed with the University of Miami, but didn’t want to go three years of college and then try to get redrafted,” said Pannone. “My advisor at the time knew people at the College of Southern Nevada and helped get me on the team.”

He went 6-2 in eight starts and ten appearances for the Coyotes. This included four complete games, two shutouts, a 1.84 ERA, and 78 strikeouts in just over 53 innings pitched.

“I left home at 18,” said Pannone. “Going all the way across the country without my parents, going out there and learning to survive and become independent helped me.”

Following his one year with the College of Southern Nevada he was selected by Cleveland in the ninth round of the 2013 First Year Player Draft.

Growing up in Rhode Island, he was always competitive, from the first day he started in Little League all the way through High School and now as a professional.

“The city I’m from, Cranston, has two very competitive Little Leagues. I actually didn’t end up playing with all my close friends because of where my house was located,” said Pannone. “I got to compete against them growing up and that’s still something I bring out to the mound with me and that [competitiveness] comes from Little League.”

Like most starters in the minors, Pannone features a fastball and has a nasty curveball to complement it.

“My fastball has been my strength my whole life,” he said. “Get it by guys, swing and miss. I’ve always thrown a fastball-curveball mix since high school and junior college. My change-up has developed tremendously over the course of my three years with the Indians. I’m getting the feel to throw it for a strike or throw it for a punch out.”

When he was signed by the Indians, he had never thrown a changeup and has worked hard to master the pitch and include it in his arsenal when he takes the mound.

“I didn’t really know how to grip a change-up when I came to the Indians,” said Pannone. “Now it’s neck and neck with my curveball for my best secondary pitch.”

In his second outing for the Hillcats, he got the start at home against the Carolina Mudcats. He pitched seven dominant innings, at one point retiring 13 straight batters between the first and fifth innings. This lowered his Carolina League ERA to 0.73 and earned him the league’s Pitcher of the Week honors for July 25.

“It’s just the way the game goes,” said Pannone about his start that earned him the honor. “Some nights it’s your night and that night happened to be mine. I capitalized on it and I’m pretty happy about the pitcher of the week award.”

Earlier in the season he garnered another honor, being named to the Midwest League All-Star team, the only pitcher attending from the Low-A Lake County staff.

“I was unbelievable,” he said about the circuit’s annual All-Star festivities. “Just to make the team was pretty cool. I hadn’t been on an All-Star team since I was in high school.

“They treated us very well [in Cedar Rapids], the home run derby was great, and it was cool to see [Lake County teammates] Tyler Krieger, Francisco Mejia, and Willi Castro compete in the game as well.”

As both an outfielder and pitcher in high school, he speculated about what it might be like to hit in an All-Star home run derby.

“I’d love to compete in one,” he said. “I don’t know how well I would do since I haven’t swung a bat in a long time, but I think I would definitely run a few out of there.”

His confidence in his abilities is always present when he takes the mound. His approach is to attack hitters. He shared, “I want to send as many guys on their team back to the dugout as possible.”

In his second start, things did not run as smoothly and he wasn’t getting calls at the plate on his fastball. He pitched four and two-thirds innings, getting out of a jam in the second inning after giving up a leadoff double to Wilmington’s catcher, Luis Villegas.

“I felt pretty confident in my curveball to bounce it in the dirt or throw it for a strike and I’d gotten a couple of misses early on, so I was pretty confident in going back to it. It got me out of the jam.”

Though Pannone had left the game early and was not eligible for the win, the Hillcats won the game with a strong relief outing by Matt Whitehouse and timely hitting by the bottom of the Hillcats lineup.

He was placed on the 7-day disabled list on July 27 with a blister issue, but returned on August 13 against Wilmington. Working his way back to form, he allowed two runs on three hits in four innings, walking one and striking out five while throwing 67 pitches, the fewest he has thrown all season.

Pannone deserves the opportunity to showcase his nasty curveball at a higher level and challenge more experienced hitters so that the Indians organization and the fans can see how strong his tools and competitiveness are. With a little luck, he will learn to master these pitching tools and move ever closer to his goal of the Major Leagues.

Photo: Lynchburg Hillcats

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