I put on Sunday’s Reading game with the goal of continuing to get looks at Andrew Pullin, who I still don’t have a grasp on. Instead it was Nick Pivetta on the mound who consumed my interest. Pivetta is not an unknown prospect, he ended up sandwiched between his Reading teammates Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens on my midseason list, he was the return for Jonathan Papelbon at the deadline a year ago. He has however gotten lost in the shuffle of higher end pitching prospect acquisitions and a disappointing end to his 2015 season. Pivetta though is a player that continues to intrigue me beyond where he seems to be mentioned in the Phillies’ system.
It has been assumed by many that Pivetta is ticketed for a future in the bullpen for the Phillies. In the EL all-star game he showed why it is easy to put him into that box. His fastball was 95-96 touching 97 with movement and his curveball was in the low 80s. He mowed through his 3 batters in that game and was one of the more impressive pitchers on the mound. But for those same reasons I am also intrigued by the idea of Pivetta as a starting pitcher.
This game is probably not the best game to be all in on Pivetta from a statistical perspective, he walked 4 and threw 87 pitches over 5 innings. The zone was a bit small, but his command was also a bit loose. What stood out to me was the fastball. There wasn’t a gun on the broadcast but enough interjections by Mike Ventola to indicate that Pivetta was sitting in his usual 90-96 range with plenty up near the top of the zone. It isn’t the velocity that is intriguing about Pivetta’s fastball, it is the movement. Against righties the pitch bores down and in on their hands and versus lefties he can run it out towards the edge of the plate away from bats. In addition to what the pitch is capable of on the edges, Pivetta is normally able to keep the ball down in the zone and there it is hard for hitters to elevate. The command of the pitch is not a finished product, and may never be, but it is a very solid building block.
Pivetta’s curveball is a future above average to plus pitch, but he does not fully use the pitch right now. He command it more to his arm side, breaking it in towards righties to have it drop into the zone (also backdooring it to lefties), and he can throw it in the zone for strikes as well. The pitch is a power breaking ball with 1 to 7 movement, and can get a bit slurvy at times. What he needs work on with the pitch is burying it away vs righties or in on the feet of lefties. If he can do that it will make the pitch more of an out pitch for him.
In addition to the fastball and curveball, Nick mixes in a slider and changeup. He uses his slider more infrequently and it is more of an average pitch due to the lack of two plane movement. His changeup was the best I have seen it so far, and he didn’t throw it too much, but he threw one that ended up outside the zone with some solid fade to it. It is of course a pitch that will need improvement, but there is more feel there than I thought coming into the year.
In many ways Pivetta reminds me of Jerad Eickhoff in that there is a lot of evidence in front of us that says the pitcher we are watching should be a reliever, but what they are doing as a starter is working. I wonder if we are too quick sometimes to put 2 pitch pitchers in the bullpen bucket. Pivetta does have some struggles against left handed hitting, but not enough to preclude him from starting. He has made big strides with his control this year, even if his command still lags some, and he has shown that he can carry a starter’s workload. He still needs more polish across the board, but he is 23 and likely has a full year in AAA to work through issues before he is needed in the majors. There is still a large chance that Pivetta ends up in the bullpen, because prospects have a tendency to disappoint vs the lofty expectations we put on them, but I am becoming less convinced that the bullpen is the ultimate home for Pivetta. In the end it is the fastball, the ability to work that pitch down in the zone and bore it on righties is just not something I see a lot at the AA level.