2021’s trade deadline was one of the busiest and most exciting of recent memory. Multiple stars found new homes. From the Mets’ surprising deal for Javier Baez, to the Giants’ 11th hour swap to Kris Bryant, several all-stars have donned new threads this season. With over 50 trades occurring this deadline season, it would be easy to have a couple fall through the cracks, especially for Chicago White Sox fans. White Sox GM Rick Hahn was particularly busy this deadline season, acquiring standout relievers Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera in separate trades with the Chicago Cubs and ultimately falling short in a couple of other star power sweepstakes.
A trade that might missed some major headlines was acquiring middle infielder Cesar Hernandez from the Cleveland Indians for a Double-A prospect. With some major prospects like Pete Crow-Armstrong, Austin Martin and Alexander Canario finding new homes, it would be easy to let this Double-A prospect go. Enter Konnor Pilkington.
Pilkington, a third-round pick out of Mississippi State in the 2018 draft, has been making the traditional prospect rise since signing. He struggled in his pro debut, but made solid strides in his 2019 sophomore campaign, posting a 4.12 ERA with much more encouraging peripheral numbers. But when the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor league season, Pilkington’s future, like many other minor leaguers, was left in doubt.
Nevertheless, the minor league reshuffling gave Pilkington a fresh start in Double-A Birmingham. He’s responded well, posting four wins and four losses with a 3.48 ERA while keeping up his solid underlying numbers and staying healthy in his 14 starts on the season. It’s long been known that Hahn and his staff get crafty with their prospects, so Pilkington finding a new home isn’t necessarily surprising, but it might be the best thing that’s happened to him in his professional career.
The Cleveland Indians’ window seems to be fading, as evidenced by the sell-off of hometown heroes like Hernandez and Francisco Lindor. For a small market team like Cleveland, windows to compete are much shorter than that of larger market teams like the Dodgers or the Yankees. However, the Indians have an intriguing farm system and stars like Shane Bieber and Jose Ramirez still under team control for a few more seasons. They might be willing to call up some of their prospects and make a run at the White Sox’ stranglehold on the division.
While Pilkington is posting solid numbers, they’re not eye popping by any means. If called up right now, he’s got the makings of a league average starter. Luckily for him, Cleveland is one of the best teams in the league at unlocking hidden talent in their arms. Bieber came into the minors as a unheralded fourth round pick out of UC-Santa Barbara; now he’s a Cy Young award winner and the ace of the staff. James Karinchak came into the league as a ninth-round pick out of little known Bryant University; now he’s one of the best closers in the league. Even some of their lower ranked prospects are making good strides. 2019 seventh-round pick Xzavion Curry entered the league as a Georgia Tech product with little hype; now he’s wowing scouts across the league with his stuff and potential.
Cleveland has a history of success with these projects, and Pilkington has the raw stuff to be another example. He’s still in Double-A, so there’s still a ways to go, but his early success coupled with Cleveland’s track record should give Indians fans something to be excited for. The 2021 trade deadline is already one that will be remembered for many reasons, but the potential theft of Pilkington has a real chance to end up as the biggest of them all.