Prospect Review: Michael Pineda
Michael Pineda of the Seattle Mariners system was a breakthrough prospect in 2010. A reader asked me why he wasn't on my pre-season 2010 Top 50 Pitching Prospects list. This was due to the fact that he missed most of '09 with a sore elbow. Here's his comment from last year's book, and a look at how I see him right now:
Michael Pineda, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-5 WT: 180 DOB: January 18, 1989
2009: Grade B.
I took some flack last year for giving Michael Pineda a straight Grade B. He's tall and lanky, but lacks plus velocity, throwing an 88-93 MPH sinking fastball. He has a very good changeup, but his breaking ball is inconsistent, and so far he's relied mainly on locating his pitches to spots to succeed. As a result, scouts are suspicious of him. A sore elbow limited him to just 47.1 innings last year, adding another item to doubt. On the other hand, those 47.1 innings were very successful: he survived High Desert and the California League with aplomb. Actually, he didn't just survive High Desert: he thrived there, posting an amazing 1.86 ERA with a 37/4 K/BB and only 17 hits in 29 innings in his home park. It helps a lot that he keeps the ball down, posting a 1.69 GO/AO on the season, and hitters had a hard time lofting the ball on him even in the thin air. I still think Pineda is a significantly underrated prospect. I'm reducing his grade slightly to a Grade B- because I am concerned that the elbow problem may recur, but my general opinion about him hasn't changed. He's a much better prospect than he's given credit for, in my opinion anyway.
As you can see, the comment about him was actually quite positive, but the elbow issue worried me. Absent that, I would have had him at least a Grade B and maybe a B+, considering how well he'd pitched at High Desert, which is like pitching on the moon.
Pineda began 2010 at Double-A West Tennessee, going 8-1, 2.22 with a 78/17 K/BB in 77 innings and 67 hits allowed. Promoted to Triple-A, his ERA spiked up to 4.76, but that was highly misleading: his K/BB was 76/17 in 62 innings and he gave up just 54 hits. The main difference was a large increase in his home run rate, nine compared to just one in Double-A, but even that didn't really account for the ERA burst. His FIP was solid at 3.60. Basically, don't worry about his ERA at Tacoma; I think it was a fluke.
Pineda's velocity has picked up; he was at 89-93 for most of 2009, but was up to the mid-to-upper 90s this year with no loss of command. His slider continues to improve; his changeup draws mixed reviews. Command and control are strengths for him. There has been talk of making him a reliever, but I think I'd stick with him as a starter until he proves he can't handle it.
He will be 22 entering 2011. Ideally I'd like to see him get another half-season of Triple-A, but that may not be necessary, and it will be interesting to see how aggressive the Mariners are with him in spring training. Grade-wise, he'll get at least a B+ in the 2011 book, and an A- is possible.