Few players within the Cubs system have had a more interesting season than pitcher Jeff Passantino. The 5’9” righty was the very last player selected in the 2017 MLB draft. This year he has started at least one game with all four full-season teams, and has proved his worth at each level.
Passantino spent last year and the first half of this year with low-A South Bend before being promoted to high-A Myrtle Beach in June. He finished his time in low-A with a record of 2-1 and an ERA of 4.24 in 34.0 innings pitched.
Passantino has recently worked his way into the starting rotation again, but he is no stranger to the utility pitcher role from his college days. It is a role he loves it. “Last year out of camp, [the Cubs] wanted me to be a reliever, kind of a piggyback/long relief guy. When I went to South Bend, I was a three, four inning guy,” said Passantino. The organization later decided to transition the 24-year-old to a starting pitcher, and sent him to Eugene to work on his skills. He made seven starts before sending him back to South Bend to end the season as a starter.
The Pelicans originally placed Passantino in the bullpen when he was promoted in late June where he pitched two scoreless innings in his high-A debut, but he would be making another move through the Cubs’ farm system a few days later; this time to fill in a spot with Triple-A Iowa. He would go on to make two starts, pitching a total of nine innings between both games and allowed just one run in each start.
Expecting to be in the bullpen, instead Passantino made his first start of the season for the Iowa Cubs with Taylor Davis catching him behind the plate. The Florida native found his stint with Triple-A to be very beneficial due to the opportunity to listen and learn from more experienced players. “A lot of those guys have big league time for a reason,” Passantino said of his Iowa teammates.
Passantino found himself influenced by pitcher Colin Rea, not only on the mound, but how he handled himself as a professional off the field as well. “He was a true professional,” Passantino said.
Perhaps the teammate that made the biggest impression on Passantino was catcher Taylor Davis. “It’s a different bond between a pitcher and a catcher because you really have to figure each other out,” Passantino explained. “Even though it was Taylor Davis’s first two times ever catching me in pro ball, he was smart enough to know what I did well and what the hitters did bad. Having him behind the plate made my job a lot easier.”
After two starts in Triple-A Iowa and two starts in Double-A Tennessee, it appears that Passantino will remain in Myrtle Beach as part of the Pelicans’ starting rotation for the duration of the season. He now has a different level of maturity and a different outlook on the game after his moves through the organization this summer.
”Being in Triple-A, so close to the big leagues, you can kind of taste it,” Passantino explained. “It was like ‘oh my gosh, I’m right there’ all of the sudden.” He made two exceptional starts one level below the Majors, dominating many Triple-A hitters as well as big leaguers.
It may not have been a conventional climb to the top of the minor league system for Passantino, but his well-traveled summer experience gave him an eye-opening experience as to what he is capable of. “Going out there and competing against the best guys I’ve seen in my baseball career so far gave me a lot of satisfaction and privy that what I do well can play at the higher levels.”
With the 2019 season coming to a close, Passantino has his eyes set on his turn in Double-A and Triple-A in 2020, and maybe a shot at the majors in 2021, if not sooner. “I don’t know what the plan is going to be; My job right now is to go out, dominate and live in the moment, and right now it’s High-A,” he said of the future.
With less than a month left in the season, Passantino is happy to be settled down and rooted in Myrtle Beach, taking the mound every fifth day for the Pelicans and showing his talent. He has pitched 25.0 innings in five games for the Birds and currently has an ERA of 2.16. “[I want to] keep perfecting my craft because it’s not perfect; there’s still some things I need to work on and get better at” he said. Just because I had success at Triple-A doesn’t mean my next outing will be successful. I’ll have six or seven more starts, [this year] so I want to make them the best I can.