In most cases, players are given too much praise and too high expectations based on either a small sample size or simply no professional sample size. These prospects are evaluated based on limited minor league action or amateur success. However, in some cases, there’s very little hype when there should be a lot more. Sometimes, a small sample size is all that’s needed to get excited, even I’d the world outside of the Padres couldn’t care less.
In the case of Cory Luebke, not much was expected of him. He was drafted in the supplemental portion of the first round by the Padres as the 63rd overall pick. He played his college ball at Ohio State University, and had a great deal of success. Once he was drafted, Luebke found moderate success. Over the course of four minor league seasons, he posted a 3.49 ERA. His stuff wasn’t spectacular, but it was enough. In 2010, his pedestrian 7.0 K/9 ration coupled with expanding rosters and need was enough to get him to the majors.
In 2010, Luebke started three games for the Padres and appeared in one more. He had a 4.08 ERA and a much higher 9.2 K/9 ratio. In 2011, the Padres started him off in the bullpen, and he excelled. He appeared in 29 games from the pen and eventually earned a starting job thanks to numerous injuries. He would go on to start 17 games and in all he posted a 3.29 ERA in 139.2 innings pitches. He struck out an average of 9 batters per 9 innings pitched and walked just 2.8 per 9 innings. Of course, much of this was due to the limited pitch selection and strikeout mentality a bullpen pitcher must have.
Now, Luebke is a lock for the starting rotation out of camp, but many want to know how much more he can do. The 27-year old lefty has tossed two innings of shut-out ball this spring, and he’s looked good doing it. He’s allowed two base runners (a walk and a hit) and he picked them both off at first. In addition he struck out four batters in his two innings of work. It was a strong showing indeed.
Yet, two innings in spring doesn’t make a pitcher an ace. Sustained success does. A fastball that can touch the upper 90’s and a curve ball that drops off the table about 20 slower helps. Luebke has the pitches, and he’s shown he can go back to throwing his full repertoire. As a reliever, he relied in his fastball, but as a starter he had to reintroduce his change up and curve ball.
Many might downplay Luebke’s gains made last year and simply toss him in the park effected help category. There’s no denying Petco’s helpful effect on pitching, but he performed much better on the road in 2011 than at home. In 23 games pitched away from Petco, totaling 70.2 innings, Luebke achieved a 2.55 ERA and an 11.2 K/9 ratio.
The final criticism that may come out is the fact that Luebke’s ERA and peripheral numbers were improved by his time in the pen. So let’s eliminate that. Strictly as a starter in 2011, Luebke pitched 100.2 innings, compiled a 3.31 ERA, and maintained a high 9.9 K/9 ratio. He also walked just 29 batters in those 100.2 innings pitched.
Luebke still has a long way to go to prove himself, but success during this season could easily help him towards a number one starter role. If he can maintain his high strikeout ratios, keep his ERA low, and just get guys out, Luebke could easily be the Padres front line starter. Now, imagine if he gets to that point, Tim Stauffer continues his success, and Edinson Volquez gets close to his 2008 form. That’d be quite the rotation.