Name: Cory Luebke
DOB: March 4, 1985
A supplemental first-round pick in 2007, Luebke was put on the fast track in his professional debut. He saw action at three levels, starting in short-season Eugene and ending in High-A Lake Elsinore.
Along the way, the southpaw compiled a 5-3 record with a 3.07 ERA across 15 games, including nine starts, across those three levels. In 58.2 innings, he allowed 57 hits, struck out 61 and walked just eight.
Luebke also went 1-1 with a 3.18 ERA across three starts for Lake Elsinore in the playoffs.
Coming off a solid debut, the Padres felt confident he could handle High-A to begin 2008.
Things didn't work out as planned.
"We thought they (Luebke and Corey Kluber) were prepared for that league," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "Their maturity, where they have been in the past, what we saw from them 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. Those guys are certainly in that mode."
Luebke went 3-6 with a 6.84 ERA across 17 games, including 15 starts, for the Storm. He allowed 97 hits in 72.1 innings and saw eight balls leave the yard. Four or more runs crossed the dish in nine of his 15 starts.
"There are just a lot of moving parts," former Lake Elsinore pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "He's a tall kid; he's got long arms, long legs. Any time you have unnecessary movements because you're the size that he is – I'm not saying he's a giant by any means – but he is a pretty tall kid, it's just going to take him a little more time because he's a little more spread out and not as compact. Which, you'd like him to be a little more compact than spread out."
"He needs to work on keeping the ball down and moving, in and out the hitters," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "All these young guys don't know how to pitch inside. Once they learn how to pitch inside, they will do better. It was just one of those years that even when he was throwing well they hit him. It was tough for him."
With 19 first-inning runs coming across and a .383 batting average against with runners in scoring position, Luebke was battling from behind.
As a result of the struggles, his confidence wavered, His walks were up, his strikeouts were down and balls were being lifted into the air against a pitcher that strives for ground ball outs.
He was demoted to Fort Wayne in mid-July and resurfaced as a more consistent force. The left-hander went 3-3 with a 2.89 ERA across 10 starts – averaging six innings per start after his initial outing to rebuild his arm; he averaged less than five innings during his California League stint.
"I think there was something in him, there was a little tap in his delivery they were working on with a couple of little other things that would allow him to get more command of his fastball," Fort Wayne manager Doug Dascenzo said. "He just lost command of his fastball. He couldn't pitch; he couldn't throw the ball inside when he needed to. So, they just kind of cleaned that up and worked on getting rid of that a little bit."
"He's got a little bit of a toe tap with his right, when his right foot lands," Fort Wayne pitching coach Tom Bradley explained. "He eliminated that pretty good. A matter of staying on top. His arm slot was pretty consistent up, so he gets a little better downward plane to his fastball. He's got to pitch down in the zone."
Luebke had more double play grounders (seven) in fewer innings and starts than he did during his time in Lake Elsinore (six). His hits and walks decreased and Luebke was solid holding runners at bay with a .236 mark against with runners in scoring position.
"Also, a big thing for him was pitching in to right-handed hitters," Bradley said. "I guess in the Cal league, he would go three innings and pound guys in. Then he'd get away from that and they'd start taking him the other way. He did a great job with pounding right-handed hitters; and lefties too for that matter. So, they're not looking out over the plate. Those things helped."
The Ohio State alumnus features a low-90s fastball that can touch 94 mph and regularly works in the 90-92 range. His two-seamer moves well down in the zone and is a plus pitch for him that can hit the corners or be placed right off the plate.
"That ability to throw that fastball where he wanted to allowed him to be able to pitch," Dascenzo said. "When we had Cory here last year, that's what he did. Again, for whatever reason, something pops up in the delivery and hampers your fastball command – it's going to be very difficult to pitch anywhere."
When the confidence wavered, his mechanics would falter as well. It resulted in a flattening out of his fastball catching too much of the plate.
The Padres have been trying to have Luebke stand taller and pitch with more of a downhill plane to take advantage of the movement of his pitches. When he releases the ball, his body is compressed and the hitters don't have as many changing angles to decipher where the ball is and where it will be.
Luebke flashes a plus slider at times but it remains an inconsistent pitch. Part of it is the mechanical changes he is undergoing. He will short arm the ball – releasing it without a full follow-through – and that makes the pitch loopy. Tightening up the slider will open up a lot of different avenues to attack hitters.
At the Padres Instructional League, Luebke worked extensively on his changeup. He was throwing it in off-counts to throw off a hitters timing with immense success.
His changeup has improved greatly from its debut during the 2007 season, but he got away from using it when it isn't expected during the '08 campaign. Instead, it became too predictable. He isn't throwing it as hard as in the past and it has the makings of being a plus pitch. Using the proper pitch sequencing, however, can make all the difference in the world between success and failure of its use.
"His changeup got better; he was able to start throwing it in fastball counts," Bradley began. "His slider's kind of short, quick; it's not a big breaker. It's got a little bit of two-plane to it. He was able to throw more strikes; his walk totals were down. Still goes arm side high a little bit with his fastball, but was able to repeat his delivery when he would elevate. Sometimes he would elevate on purpose, obviously."
Throwing what pitch when and varying looks is still something that Luebke is in the process of learning. He didn't get a lot of coaching at Ohio State – thus giving him a higher ceiling to pick up on the nuances of the game.
"He's got some plus pitches, but he just needs to calm some things down in his delivery," Whitehurst said. "Like I said before, some of them are unnecessary, and he's worked on that. When you throw 90, up to 92-93 from the left side, has a good changeup and his breaking ball was a little inconsistent. Once he squares those things out, I think he'll be fine. I think the best thing for him and (Corey) Kluber was to go back to Fort Wayne and confidence has a lot to do with a lot of things, and I think both of them found that there and hopefully they can just take off."
Luebke does have a good move to first that he worked on during his time in Eugene and Fort Wayne a season ago but was so focused on throwing strikes that he lost sight of runners during his time with the Storm. He and his catchers threw out just 3-of-16 runners attempting to steal. In Fort Wayne, he and his catchers snared 7-of-11 base runners attempting thievery.
"I think he also has got a very bright future, so hopefully he'll get off to a good start next year. He's kind of tough on himself a little bit, which is good. You like to see that from guys. You like them to have some fire and be disappointed. It makes them work that much harder next time."
Conclusion: A mature pitcher with a great mental toolkit to pull from, the 2008 season looks like the aberration and not the norm. He still has a lot of learning to do and was tested physically and mentally this past season. Luebke will benefit from it.
Cleaning up his mechanics and adding muscle to his frame are key components to his success. If he can repeat his delivery, Luebke has the potential for three plus pitches – from the left side. He has the makings of a top prospect and simply needs to put all the things together to reach his vast potential. Seeing him in the top 10 a year from now would not surprise.
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