A senior pick, Lucchesi, 23, led the nation in strikeouts with 149 in 111 innings. He led the Redhawks to the first round of the NCAA Regionals and became the first pitcher to win the Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year in back-to-back seasons. He finished the year with a 10-5 record and a 2.19 ERA.
Lucchesi was the highest player ever drafted from Southeast Missouri [ironically, the previous one was also a Padres’ draft pick, left-hander Galen McSpadden].
This season with the Dust Devils, Lucchesi has also been impressive with a 1.80 ERA in 25 innings. He has 31 strikeouts against a single walk with the opposition hitting .187 against him. All of his outings have been limited to three innings because of the number of innings he already has on his arm from the college season, but he did go four innings in his last appearance; but still only threw 60 pitches.
He has one of the more unusual deliveries, which we discussed in our Notebook, but as his manager Ben Fritz said, “I really think that batters just can’t see the ball. No one ever seems to really be able to square it up against him.”
We caught up with Joey before a recent start to find out how he got to the Padres’ organization and where all of those strikeouts come from.
How did a guy from the Bay Area end up at Southeast Missouri University?
Joey Lucchesi: I was playing at a Chabot College [Junior College] in Hayward, California. I went to an all-star game where there were a lot of scouts and they saw me. I was going to go to UC-Santa Barbara but I was short math credentials – although I had a good GPA at 3.6 – but I was still short a few math credits so I had to go out of state.
One of my best friends was going there too so it worked out and I ended up living with him. It was a really good experience.
That must have been quite a culture shock going from the San Francisco area to rural Missouri?
Joey Lucchesi: Oh yeah. [laughs] It was peaceful and everyone was very good to me.
You had good numbers your junior year and great numbers when you were a senior. Why did you improve as much as you did?
Joey Lucchesi: My junior year I was hoping to get drafted and it just didn’t work out. I was talking to the Dodgers and they said they were going to pick me and when it didn’t happen, it was tough.
I told myself that I just had to keep working hard and everything happens for a reason. I got stronger, worked on my pitching skills and had a good year.
You did have a really good season. What do you throw?
Joey Lucchesi: I always throw a two-seam fastball, but I have two different two-seam fastballs.
How are they different?
Joey Lucchesi: Depending if they are a lefty or righty they both cut differently.
How about for breaking pitches?
Joey Lucchesi: I have a curve ball, that I can make a tight or loopy break along with a circle change.
Five different pitches is quite a bit for a batter to keep in mind.
Joey Lucchesi: True, but it also depends if it is a get me over pitch, if I am trying to throw it for a strike or to get them to chase. So I try to give them a lot to keep on their plate.
How is your velocity?
Joey Lucchesi: Consistently I’m around 91 to 94. I can touch 95, but right now I have some miles on me from the college season. I threw 111 in college this season, so that is a lot.
I take really good care of my arm so I’m still sitting around the low 90’s.
I’m positive at the first sign of stress the team is going to shut you down. As an athlete who is used to pushing your body how do you balance between that and not putting stress on your arm?
Joey Lucchesi: Honestly, a few years ago my Mom, who is a nurse, helped me to understand how the elbow works. So every night I do a bunch of exercises with it to prevent injury.
So right now I don’t feel fatigue or anything, as I said I am a little tired, but without what I do on the side, I might be struggling. Right now, I’m just slinging it in there and still feel fresh.
You were disappointed by the draft last year; you lead the NCAA in strikeouts this season, so you must have expected that good things were going to happen. Was there any nervousness on draft day?
Joey Lucchesi: I had a little butterflies but I had a lot of teams contact me which didn’t happen last season. This year I had every team contact me, but the Padres were really calling me the last few days - which was great.
They were really interested and I thought I might go somewhere in the sixth or eighth round so when they took me in the fourth, I was shocked. I was making myself a sandwich then everyone screamed.
It was really a great feeling.
The other great feeling you had to have was coming here instead of being in the AZL.
Joey Lucchesi: Yes, that was a nice development. I only spent two days out in Phoenix for checkups and physicals, and then I came out here.
As we talked about, you led the NCAA in strikeouts and out here you are doing well also. What makes you so difficult?
Joey Lucchesi: What really helps is getting ahead in the count and if I get there, I am good at putting people away. I really try to not waste pitches, I want the out now.
Has it been fun pitching to wood?
Joey Lucchesi: Yes, very much so; inside pitches are a lot of fun up here. I like going in and out.
That was my next question. Quite a few lefties don’t like coming in to right-handed hitters. You don’t have that problem.
Joey Lucchesi: I’m very confident in my ability to put the ball where I want to and I’m not giving up part of the plate.
You’ve had a great year. What is the one thing you want to improve upon before going into the off-season?
Joey Lucchesi: I can always increase my velocity and my accuracy is good, but it can always be better. I like to really work both corners of the plate and try my best to not give the hitters a chance.