As I alluded to a couple of weeks ago, the Padres’ Starting Rotation may be set in terms of the guys that make up the starting five. There are however opportunities this Spring for those in the rotation to move up and establish themselves as front-end guys by Opening Day. One Padres Pitcher that has quite a bit to gain with a positive showing this Spring is Cory Luebke.
Luebke has his best chance this Spring to move up the rotation ladder and establish himself as one of the Padres’ top Starters, because the rotation itself is not filled with #1 and #2 caliber starters.
Padres Projected Starting Staff
Tim Stauffer and Clayton Richard are solid #3’s, and steady guys to have on your rotation because of their ability to eat innings and their generally low E.R.A.’s. They won’t necessarily blow you away with their stuff, but they can get the job done and have the ability to Win 10-12 games per season.
Dustin Moseley should be the #5 guy after being signed to his just over $2 million dollar deal. Yet if he falters, veterans Micah Owings (who should see more time in Long Relief) and Jeff Suppan can pick up the slack. Granted they will join the rotation, but they are #5 starters at best at this point in their careers.
Edinson Volquez is a mystery to me. I personally believe that he can win 12-15 games if he pitches in either the #3 or #4 spot this season. If his stuff is reminiscent of what it was in 2008, he could do quite well against other teams’ #3’s and #4’s. Furthermore, not pitching in Great American Ballpark for half his games should do wonders for his E.R.A., and confidence alike. Then when you factor in him pitching in Petco instead of Great American, and you could see an Aaron Harang of 2011 or better performance from Volquez.
How Luebke Can Take Advantage
Even though he only has 20 career starts under his belt, Cory Luebke will get every chance possible to show off his skills this Spring and prove to the Coaching Staff that he is worthy of being one of the top end starters for the Padres in 2012.
Luebke made the switch from Reliever to full time Starter midway through last season (June 26th to be exact), and really came on strong for the Padres down the stretch. Luebke pitched 100.2 Innings (139.2 total) as a starter and Struck Out 101 Batters (Just over 9 K’s per 9 Innings Average as a starter 154 K’s overall), posted a 5-8 Record (as a starter, 6-10 overall), and showed signs of improvement with his command and some of his breaking pitches.
This is by no means to say that Luebke is a finished product at this point. There’s room for Luebke to improve in terms of his control at times, he does give up his fair share of gopher-balls, and he might need to still be monitored Pitch Count wise for another season to season and a half, because in all but three of his 17 starts Luebke threw 100+ pitches.
Yet having a young Left Handed Pitcher that can bring it in the 90-94 MPH range with his Fastball and improving Breaking/Off-Speed Pitches is something at least comforting for Padres the have at the Major League level right now. Furthermore, if Luebke can pitch somewhere in the neighborhood of 175 to 200 Innings this season, he could be among the League Leaders in Strikeouts if he keeps up his performance.
If last season was any indication, Luebke has the ability to give the Padres’ staff some quality innings, while at the same time developing as a sound Starter. His 6’4” and 205 lb. frame can handle the stress of a big league season, and the fact that he is 27 years old means there are a lot of nice years and quality innings and outings to be had from Luebke in the future.
Personally, I believe that Stauffer will emerge from the rest of the pack this Spring and earn the #1 job. He has the most experience, and was the best Starter on the staff last season that is currently with the Padres. Nevertheless, I feel that if Luebke has a strong Spring, he could climb to as high as #2 in San Diego’s rotation depending on where Volquez and Richard end up landing.
Bud Black and Darren Balsley of course will be watching intently on Luebke’s progress and improvement over the course of the Spring, because he will be a big part of San Diego’s success in 2012. Furthermore, Luebke will hopefully be a vital part of the Padres rotation for years to come even after Wieland, Erlin, and Kelly make their jumps to the Big Club in the coming seasons.
It’s up to him where he will begin the year on the Padres’ Staff. But I feel that by mid-summer, Luebke will have jumped ahead of Richard and Volquez (if he wasn’t already), and would be settled into the #2 spot. Regardless, we should be happy and excited to watch a player like Luebke’s development over the course of the next few seasons. 2012 will provide an excellent proving ground for Luebke as he attempts to embark on his first full season as a starter. I know that I’m stoked to watch.