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Pannone recognizes 'need to get better'

Versatile lefty aims to lock down defined big league role in 2020
@baseballexis
October 17, 2019

As Thomas Pannone made an effort to evaluate the 2019 season and his individual performance level, the 25-year-old left-hander’s frustrations were evident. Throughout the year, his role on the Blue Jays’ pitching staff varied in almost every way, Pannone was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo a grand total of six times,

As Thomas Pannone made an effort to evaluate the 2019 season and his individual performance level, the 25-year-old left-hander’s frustrations were evident.

Throughout the year, his role on the Blue Jays’ pitching staff varied in almost every way, Pannone was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo a grand total of six times, and the young hurler finished the season with a 6.16 ERA over 73 innings at the big league level. But through the literal ups and downs, he got a chance to learn about himself.

“I need to get better,” Pannone said. “I’m here and it’s nice, but I want to obviously do better than I did this season. It keeps me hungry to keep working and develop my skills. The Minor Leagues are about developing and all that, but there’s still room for development when you get here because you learn more when you get here.

“Now you’re playing with the best guys in the world and you’re trying to be one of those best guys in the world.”

Making the grades

Evaluating himself using a scouting report from the Major League Scouting Bureau and the 2 to 8 scouting scale, Pannone picked out some of the ways he can become one of those players. He notably projected higher future grades in every category but one, looking to decrease his level of aggressiveness.

“My aggressiveness is something that I’ve always battled with," Pannone said. “I’m very competitive and I struggle with being too wound up inside. Even though I might not show it physically, inside I’m thinking, ‘I need to go, I need to go,’ instead of taking my time and delivering the pitch. I always want to go. But this season has shown me that and it’s allowed me to get better at that.”

When that aggression gets the best of him, the result for Pannone is a loss of control.

“When I’m out of control, my pitches aren’t the same,” the southpaw said. “It’s really all about release point for me. When my release point’s on, my fastball plays a lot differently than when it’s off. It all stems from how fast my body’s moving.

“If my body’s getting ahead of my arm, then my arm’s behind me. When it’s behind me, it doesn’t come out the same way. I’m very flexible and mobile and I can get my body into a lot of weird positions and still throw a baseball, but it’s about being efficient.”

What the scouts say

One professional scout who saw the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Pannone noted the late tail on his fastball and his long, sweepy curveball from “a really tough angle that is very tough on left-handed hitters but also effective against righties.” The evaluator mentioned Pannone’s prowess in commanding the zone, and in his ability to expand it.

“He has a good feel for pitching, and would be an excellent bullpen addition,” the scout said. “He’s going to have movement, and when he learns to use his two-seam [fastball] he’ll get more sink. He’s a guy I like. He’s got a role as a lefty in the ‘pen and that’s very, very important.”

In Toronto’s rotation, Pannone posted a 11.31 ERA in 24 2/3 innings over seven starts with nine walks and 24 strikeouts. Out of the bullpen, the Rhode Island native went 3-1 with a 3.54 ERA over 48 1/3 frames in 30 appearances, with 22 walks and 45 strikeouts. At Triple-A Buffalo, Pannone had a 3.21 ERA over six starts and eight appearances, walking 15 and striking out 41 in 33 2/3 innings.

Beyond the numbers

“I’d like to have a defined role on the team,” Pannone said. “I’ve really liked coming out of the bullpen this season. I always liked being a starter, but I’ve been a little more comfortable coming in out of the bullpen. You have a little bit of a shorter task at hand rather than facing a whole lineup a couple times through, and you can … come out and kind of let it explode all at once.”

Pannone also believes there’s room to add velocity as a reliever, “because I know I can throw harder.” In grading his fastball movement, he also added, “I get a lot of swings on some, so it’s doing something right.

“I’ve got upside.”

And that upside extends further than what can be found on a traditional scouting report.

“Your internal attributes, your aggressiveness and your instincts, that’s stuff that nowadays computers can’t really show about a player,” Pannone said. “Even with that [option to grade those], I mean we can write a score for ourselves, but to truly get inside of an athlete’s head, when they’re out on the field, that’s the toughest thing for anyone to evaluate.”

Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.