Thomas Pannone is taking everything day by day.
A former outfielder, Pannone didn't become a full-time pitcher until he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 11th round of 2013. He spent the first few years of his development stretching out his arm and he's truly blossomed this season as a starting left-handed pitcher for the Lake County Captains.
Compared to his 2015 stint with the Captains, Pannone's ERA is down a full run, he's walking fewer batters, giving up fewer hits and is taking his starts deeper into games. Basically, he's doing everything the organization has asked of him and then some.
Having just turned 22 this past April, The Rhode Island native understands that a promotion to High-A Lynchburg could be right around the corner, but he's doing his best to avoid those distractions and focus on the tasks at hand.
Pannone spoke to Let's Go Tribe about his Italian family, his love for Frank Sinatra, and his pitching idols in this exclusive interview:
Edit: Thomas Pannone was promoted to High-A Lynchburg today to complete the second half of a suspended game. He pitched three 5.1 innings giving up one run with three strikeouts and picked up the win.
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Brian Hemminger (Let's Go Tribe): You have a lot of love for New York. I know you're from Rhode Island, so where did the passion for the New York lifestyle come from?
Thomas Pannone: Well I grew up a Yankees fan. I was born into an Italian family and that was just the team that my family always rooted for. I was always a Yankee fan, a huge Derek Jeter fan and it just stuck with me pretty much my whole life.
Brian Hemminger: You're a big Frank Sinatra fan too, right?
Thomas Pannone: Well my grandpa was a huge Sinatra fan and I listen to a lot of his music even today, but just growing up, being around him a lot, and that was pretty much all he listened to. Obviously, it trickled down through my whole family so we've all got a big love for him too.
Brian Hemminger: I know the feeling, that's why I love Meat Loaf, my dad.
Thomas Pannone: (laughs) Yeah I love Meat Loaf too. Bat Outta Hell!
Brian Hemminger: Is there anything else you like to do in your free time that maybe our readers would find interesting?
Thomas Pannone: Well I love hanging out with my friends, who I've been really close with since I was very young and they've stuck by me. I'm obviously very close with my family, so we do a lot of things together. I'd say for activities, I really like golfing. Golfing is definitely one of my hobbies I picked up since I became exclusively a pitcher so I'm trying to get better at that.
Brian Hemminger: You were originally an outfielder/pitcher and when you got drafted, they decided you were going to be a pitcher/pitcher. Was it difficult to give up the stick a bit?
Thomas Pannone: Yeah, a little bit. I went to junior college just to be an outfielder and eight months later I was just a pitcher. It was a bit tough to let go but I love the situation I'm in. My love for pitching has grown dramatically in the course of the three years I've been with the Indians. I can't really say I miss hitting right now because I really enjoy what I'm doing right now and I'm just getting better along this journey.
Brian Hemminger: Rhode Island isn't exactly a powerhouse for producing great baseball players. How were you able to rise above over there?
Thomas Pannone: Growing up, I played competitive baseball from little league all the way up and from the age of 13, I was on this AAU team in Rhode Island and I was always playing against good competition and I think I exposed myself pretty well all the times we left Rhode Island to play in tournaments in Florida or Georgia or something like that. I went to an unbelievable high school too, a very competitive high school in Warwick called Biship Hendricken. Just being competitive there and playing for a spot on the sophomore year just gave me that drive to get out and follow my dream of playing professional baseball.
Brian Hemminger: You have a bit of a leg up on some of your peers because you grew up in the cold weather and almost every one of the Indians minor league affiliates is in Ohio. Does that give you an advantage at the beginning of the year because you're used to it?
Thomas Pannone: Yeah, definitely. When I started the first game of the year in Eastlake, it was lightly snowing and once I got out there and started warming up, the cold didn't even affect me. I remember walking off the mound and everyone kept asking me "How cold are you up there?" and I didn't even realize the weather. I'm sure it had a little something to do with adrenaline and being in the moment of the game, but it definitely helped me growing up in the cold. Playing in the month of April in Ohio isn't all that easy.
Brian Hemminger: The Indians are known for having great developmental work with their young pitchers. Is there anything specific that you weren't exposed to before that you really think has helped take your game to the next level?
Thomas Pannone: I'd say the throwing routines every single day. They're always tweaking with the throwing routines, it's always something different. There's little activation drills that they have us do, but yeah, it's definitely been the routines. I never really valued throwing that much. I was just outfielder before so my goal throwing then was just to barely get my arm loose. It was definitely a big adjustment for me. Your goal now is to have a great game of catch and that's something I've honed in on.
Brian Hemminger: This season, you're repeating at Lake County and your numbers have pretty much improved across the board. Your ERA is down a full run and you're innings per start are up nearly one full inning. Do you feel like it's only a matter of time before a promotion is coming?
Thomas Pannone: That's definitely something that's on my mind, but it's something I don't want to keep on my mind that long. My main goal is to just go out there and continue improving on what I'm doing, growing as a pitcher. Obviously the level matters in some people's eyes, but in my mind, I'm fortunate enough to continue to pitch every fifth day and be a starter.
Brian Hemminger: What are you like when it's your day to pitch?
Thomas Pannone: I try to stay even-keeled. I want to be aggressive obviously when I get out there but I don't want to amp myself up too much before I get out on the mound. I have done that before and I felt like I got out there and was just overthinking things. I'd prefer to go out there with an open mind so I can adapt to any situation and just play my game.
Brian Hemminger: Derek Jeter was one of your idols growing up when you were more of a position player. Is there a pitcher out there now that you hope to one day pattern your game after?
Thomas Pannone: Obviously I like watching left-handed pitchers more than right-handed pitchers but kinda growing up, I was a fan of those Yankee pitchers: Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and all those guys. Right now, today's game, I'd say who doesn't like watching Clayton Kershaw? For right-handed pitchers, I'd say my main guy is Felix Hernandez. He's one of my favorite pitchers to watch. You have to appreciate what they do. I'm in their path they were on years ago and you have to respect what they've done and how they've gotten there.
Brian Hemminger: Did you have any specific goals or expectations for 2016 that you've reached or are hoping to accomplish?
Thomas Pannone: My goals for this year, I wanted to log more innings than I did last year. Last year I threw 125 or something like that and I'm on pace to do that. I just wanted to log more and hopefully get to 150 innings or more. That's my one goal. I want to keep my walks down and keep attacking the zone. If I can get deeper into games, that means I'm not walking guys, I'm not wasting pitches and I'm being efficient. That's just what I want to do. I want to throw strikes.
Brian Hemminger: Any shoutouts?
Thomas Pannone: I have a bunch but I can narrow it down to a few. One is a great friend of mine, Lenny Lafonzia, my parents and my sister. They supported me in everything I've done my whole life and without them I wouldn't be where I am today. I'd also like to thank Bill Leuropa.
You can follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasPannone.