Blue Jays fans received bad news about Pitching prospects Thomas Pannone and Justin Maese yesterday.
Southpaw Pannone, acquired in the Joe Smith deal with Cleveland last July, was handed an 80-game suspension for a positive PED test, while Maese, who missed half of last season with shoulder issues, underwent shoulder surgery this week, and is out for the season.
Pannone tested positive for DHCMT, a steroid that dates back to the 70s, and was used by East German swimmers. He was very upset and shocked by the positive result, even going as far as to take a lie detector test with a former FBI agent to verify that he had not knowingly ingested a banned substance. A subsequent press release by Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins, who goes back a long way with Pannone to his days as a Cleveland minor leaguer, vouches for his character.
Blue Jays Facebook was full of knee-jerk reactions last night calling for the Blue Jays to get rid of Pannone. Luckily, the team doesn’t use that counsel when making decisions about its players.
Pro athletes put tremendous demands on their bodies, and baseball players are no exception. Supplements are a fact of life, as they help players put or keep weight on, and recover faster from workouts. In every minor league clubhouse, there are posters listing products that have received NSF approval, but the list can be daunting. There’s even an app to help players determine the safety of what they’re taking, and they’re encouraged to go to the team’s trainer when they’re unsure. Just the same, it’s likely that Pannone was using a product that somehow had been contaminated, forcing the positive result. It doesn’t change the fact that he ingested a banned substance, and will miss at least half the season. When the Blue Jays have to reach into the minors for a starter, Pannone probably would have been the next man up after Ryan Borucki.
This has to be a bit of an embarrassment to the Blue Jays organization. Despite having a state-of-the-art sport science department overseeing the training, nutrition, and development of their minor league players, Pannone becomes the 8th Blue Jays prospect to receive a PED ban since last summer. 7 players connected to the Dominican complex received suspensions last September. Despite what fans think, there likely is no unscrupulous pusher providing steroids – it’s more like uneducated players making uninformed decisions. Players are not taking more PEDs than they have before – the testing process has come a long way. The World Anti-Doping Agency has praised MLB for the rigidity and extensiveness of its testing program.
Pannone’s suspension ends in late June. He’ll need some time to get his pitch count back up, but he should return to action with Buffalo in July. The Blue Jays are as bewildered as Pannone is about this result, but they also understand it’s a first-time offence, and will stick by their player.
Maese came to spring training raring to go, and was looking forward to getting back into action, most likely with High A Dunedin this year.
Maese reached full season ball in just his second pro season after being taken in the 3rd round out of and El Paso, TX, high school. Pegged as a potential mid-rotation starter, Maese looked uncomfortable early in the season last year with Lansing, and was shut down in June with shoulder soreness. He had some uncharacteristic wildness for a Pitcher known for pounding the bottom half of the zone with his sinker. Maese came back in mid-July, but was shut down for the season after five starts.
Maese’s name may not be as familiar to Blue Jays fans as Pannone’s, but the athletic right-hander is well-known to prospect watchers. In some ways, his loss is even bigger, as he’s out for the season, and loses a year of development in the process after an injury-shortened 2017.