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Pinto, Pivetta and the Exploration of Downside

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Because some pitchers just don't start forever

Ricardo Pinto pitching for the Clearwater Threshers
Ricardo Pinto pitching for the Clearwater Threshers
Baseball Betsy

At the center of the Reading Fightin Phils rotation are two pitching prospects, one homegrown and one a trade acquisition, who are both incredibly similar and yet totally different prospects. I speak not of Ben Lively - the guy leading the Reading rotation in most statistical categories - but instead of fellow righties Nick Pivetta and Ricardo Pinto.

Pivetta is a 6'3" 23-year-old Canadian that the Nationals took in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. The Phillies got him (and a lot of good feelings) in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington last July. Pinto is a 6'0" (if that) 22-year-old Venezuelan who the Phillies signed in December of 2011, not long before he turned 18, for not a lot of money. Pinto would spend two years pitching in the Venezuelan Summer League before making it stateside at age 20. Pivetta ended his 2015 season by having a disastrous time in AA, punctuated by an injury that kept him out of the playoffs, while Pinto rode a strong season split between Lakewood and Clearwater to the Paul Owens Award for the top pitching performance by a Phillies prospect.

Past their physical and background differences, Pinto and Pivetta both feature two plus pitches. They both have fastballs that mostly sit 91-95, touching 96, and both will use more of a two-seam variety in the bottom of their velocity range. Pivetta has a plus curveball that he can use to miss bats. Pinto relies on a changeup with good arm-side run and fade. Both pitchers have a chance to be mid-rotation starters (which is not really a capital-T Thing, but more on that another time).

If that were the whole story, we would be talking about both pitchers in the same breath as Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson. Instead, both pitchers remain behind in two big categories; possession of a quality third pitch and command.

Pivetta's changeup is just not a usable pitch at the moment, and while his slider is an average pitch, he is going to struggle in the Majors against left-handed hitters when using it. Then, you have Pinto and his slider. While Pinto can manage the minors with complete confidence in his changeup (which he throws to both righties and lefties), his slider is a below-average pitch. It isn't that he needs a wipeout breaking ball, it is that he needs that added element to his game to keep good hitters off-balance.

Then there is command. Command and control get interchanged a lot when talking about pitching, but in reality they are two very different, yet very intertwined, things. Control is the ability to throw strikes; command is the ability to throw a pitch where you want to. Of the two pitchers, Pinto leads Pivetta by a neck in control; Pinto can throw strikes and he is not afraid to throw those strikes to any batter, and Pivetta has been much better on the strike throwing front this year, as he has been better able to repeat his delivery. Command, however, still eludes the pair, as it does for most minor league pitchers. You can survive on two pitches if you place those pitches wherever you want them to go, but neither has been able to do that to this point. If either pitcher can command their fastball, they will be able to set up their secondary pitches in a way that allows them to work against Major League hitters multiple times through a lineup.

That last point is for emphasis, because for each prospect, one must think not just of the ceiling but of the floor, too. When it comes to starting pitching, this focuses on the bullpen, and here is where Pinto and Pivetta shine. They both have high ceilings (if you ever doubt the value of a mid-rotation pitcher, just look at the starting pitching crops in free agency), but both also have high floors. The current Major League reliever profile is not just a collection of average pitches, like it was a few years ago, even if Jeanmar Gomez has success with it. Instead, even the marginal relievers are throwing in the mid-90s with nasty breaking pitches. Armed with two plus pitches, both Pivetta and Pinto have the raw stuff to be impact relief pitchers, especially if their raw stuff plays up in short bursts. Pivetta is more of the traditional reliever with a fastball and big breaking ball to get swings and misses, while Pinto is more reminiscent of a closer of Phillies teams of recent past as a fastball-changeup righty.

Now, I don't think that both pitchers will be relievers. I actually think Pinto has a real chance to start long-term. However, no matter the optimism, it is always important to think of the downside. The modal outcome of prospects is, in harsh reality, some sort of failure, after all.

Some of the organization's current pitching depth will be starters, both to fill around a young Major League rotation and provide depth in Triple-A. Some will move to the bullpen where it should make that squad a cheap (and effective!) unit of the team going forward. There will likely be other pitchers traded for help elsewhere. We don't entirely know where each pitcher will fall in the spectrum - no one does until years have gone by - but that is what the Phillies are working on now as they consider who is part of the team's future.