Name: Corey Kluber
DOB: April 10, 1986
Drafted in the fourth-round of the 2007 MLB Draft out of Stetson, Kluber was sipped to the Northwest League where he went 1-1 with a 3.51 ERA over 10 games.
The Texas native was then sent to the California League for the playoffs, posting a 12.60 ERA across five innings.
San Diego liked what they saw from Kluber in his debut season and in spring training prior to '08 and decided he didn't need to see the Midwest League. They skipped him to High-A Lake Elsinore for more than a playoff taste – he would start the year there and who knows where he would go if things went well.
Things, however, didn't go as planned for the right-hander. Only once – after his second start – did Kluber have a cumulative season ERA under 5.43.
"He didn't have command of his pitches," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "In this league here, he showed a good slider. He had one good outing with us that I remember in Inland Empire that the slider was working and the command of the fastball was there. He had no command when he was here. The command was not what it had to be."
"We thought (he was) prepared for that league," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "The maturity, where he had been in the past, what we saw from him last year. For whatever reason, we have our own, why it didn't hold up. I think going back to Fort Wayne is rebuilding the confidence along with some of the things we tried to clean up mechanically. Sometimes, a guy has to take a step back before moving forward."
The right-hander ended his Lake Elsinore campaign with 2-5 record and 6.01 ERA. After posting a 7.96 ERA in June, he was moved to the pen for three games before being demoted to Fort Wayne. Left-handers hit .344 off him and 35 of the 93 hits he surrendered across 85.1 innings went for extra bases. The opposition also hit .343 off him with runners in scoring position.
His 57.6 left on-base percentage was the second lowest in the league among all pitchers with 80-plus innings and he walked 3.59 batters per nine innings pitched.
"Corey's fastball command early, he struggled with," former Lake Elsinore pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "When you're pitching behind, no matter what level you are, you're going to have some tough outings. That was one of the things that we ended up moving him to the other side of the rubber that really seemed to help him and put him in the bullpen right at the end before he went to Fort Wayne, and he started to feel his comfort again and he pitched well.
"As soon as he went over to Fort Wayne and getting back into the rotation, he ended up having a very good year for them. There are a lot of plusses there."
The positive – right-handed hitters batted just .221 off him and he struck out one of every 3.6 righties.
Moved down to Fort Wayne, Kluber resurfaced with positive results all around. In 56 innings, he struck out 72 and walked just 13 while allowing 49 hits. Twenty-two of those hits did, however, go for extra bases.
With the Wizards, Kluber held right-handed hitters to a .190 average. He also allowed just a single hit and two RBI with the bases loaded across 11 such at-bats. In an impressive turnaround, he allowed two earned runs or less in seven of his 10 starts.
"Just a better finish for one thing, better follow through," Fort Wayne pitching coach Tom Bradley said of his success in the Midwest League. "I think at times he's very upright in his follow through and extension. He worked hard on that on side days; a little bit more of a turn when he picks his leg up and kind of goes towards first base with it a little bit."
The Florida native relies heavily on his fastball and its command. He has been able to spot it up on the inner half to right-handers but has never been comfortable running it inside to lefties. While he can get the 90-92 mph offering down against righties, it elevates against lefties and catches too much of the center of the plate.
Kluber also had trouble spotting the fastball early in the count and was forced to come up with a miracle pitch to even things up.
"I don't know how to explain it, but it happens that way a lot of the times for somebody who starts at the next level," Fort Wayne manager Doug Dascenzo said. "They struggle a little bit for whatever reason, and then he comes back down here. Just a true professional, he goes about his business the right way. Just like a lot of those guys, pretty much the whole team this year. He came down and he just went to work. He got it, he found it, and he was just tremendous."
A solid slider with tilting action is a swing-and-miss pitch but only when setup by his fastball. It has sweeping motion across the plate and gets right-handers chasing outside the zone.
His changeup remains a work in progress but did show more consistency when he was moved to Low-A. That pitch will be essential to his success against left-handers – a ball that moves away from them and can get them diving out over the plate, setting up a fastball inside or vice versa.
His pitches were being telegraphed through most of his time in the California League, a result of working behind in the count. He didn't have the confidence to throw his slider or changeup – seeing his fastball get tattooed.
"He pitched very well, and he regained a lot of confidence that he was able to throw his changeup over the plate in fastball counts as opposed to throwing it when it's 0-1 or 1-2," Bradley said. "He's got three pretty good pitches. He spots his fastball down very well to right-handed hitters. His slider is good. His changeup came along big time."
Kluber has clean mechanics but was standing too tall on his follow-through. It resulted in a flattening out of his pitches, oftentimes elevated in the upper half of the zone. When he gets proper extension, the ball regains its downward movement and tighter spin.
The right-hander has a tough time holding runners close to the bag. Part of that is his methodical delivery and the other half was a focus on his pitches during a year of struggles. He will need to vary his looks more and improve his time to the plate to give his catchers a fighting chance, as opponents were successful on all but five of 27 attempts at thievery.
"He's back on track again, there's no question about it," Dascenzo said. "I really didn't get a chance to see a whole lot of him last year. What I saw this year I really liked. He's got a great command of his fastball and mixes his changeup in there pretty decent. He, along with Cory Luebke, is pretty much in the same boat. They just were struggling with a few things here and there and they are back on track. I think they'll be on their way and there won't be any problem next year."
Kluber has an easy going demeanor that could come across as a lack of caring. Nothing could be further from the truth. He prides himself on his mental toughness and leaves a good start behind just as quickly as a bad one. That serves him well, as he never gets too high or too low.
"I think he was Pitcher of the Week that one week he threw 13 or 14 shutout innings," Bradley said. "He had a one-hitter against Lansing for eight innings and was just lights out. We've seen what he can do. He just has to be more consistent and hopefully, I'm sure he'll go to Elsinore next year. Hopefully, he'll get off to a good start there."
Conclusion: The Padres had hoped to push Kluber this past year. It didn't work out, but they believe he still has the stuff to be a major contributor. This year, he will be asked to address the California League again. His work ethic and makeup say it will be a success in round two.
Kluber has a solid three-pitch repertoire with a chance to develop a pair of plus pitches. If he can command his fastball and execute the changeup in off-counts, Kluber will be rise up the prospect list.
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