Lefty Thomas Pannone, who was granted his released by the Red Sox last night, has signed on with the Kia Tigers of the Korea Baseball Organization for the remainder of the season, the Tigers announced (via Jee-ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency). Pannone will earn $300K for the remainder of the season.
Pannone, a 28-year-old lefty, appeared in the Majors with the Blue Jays in 2018-19, combining for a 5.43 ERA in 116 innings (13 starts, 36 relief appearances). The former ninth-round pick struggled out of the rotation (7.31 ERA) but showed promise in those 36 bullpen outings (3.40 ERA, 23.6% strikeout rate). He never got another look with the Jays during the shortened 2020 season, however, and after being removed from their 40-man roster that summer, he became a minor league free agent and signed with the Angels for the 2021 campaign.
Although he arrived at Angels camp with a solid Triple-A track record, Pannone’s return from that 2020 layoff was a disaster. He totaled 118 1/3 innings with the Halos’ top affiliate in Salt Lake but was rocked for a 7.07 ERA in that time. The 2022 season with Boston’s Triple-A club in Worcester has been a much better one. Pannone has an improved, albeit unexciting 4.57 ERA in 63 innings with the WooSox, but he’s also posted a sensational 70-to-7 K/BB ratio (26.7 K%, 3.1 BB%).
That pristine K-BB% surely piqued the interest of the KBO’s Tigers, who are in the market for a new starting pitcher after waiving former Cardinals and Giants minor leaguer Ronnie Williams. The 26-year-old Williams was in his first KBO season this year but scuffled to a 5.68 ERA with nearly as many walks (28) as strikeouts (32) through 44 1/3 innings.
Pannone’s KBO signing may be something of a footnote for many MLB fans now, but it’s always worth keeping an eye on former major league and minor league pitchers as they venture to the KBO or Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. It’s become increasingly common to see pitchers return from the KBO or NPB to make an impact in the Majors. Merrill Kelly, Miles Mikolas, Chris Flexen, Robert Suarez and Joely Rodriguez are among the recent examples of pitchers who’ve followed that trajectory.