Cluck on Padres pitching prospects

Bob Cluck was a minor league pitching consultant for the San Diego Padres before retiring. He had a pulse on every pitching prospect in the system. We were lucky enough to talk to Cluck about many of the top names that hope to make an impact on the big league club.

Another guy that came over was Adam Russell. Did you also not see him pitch?

Bob Cluck: Russell guy has good stuff. He's an interesting guy, I've only seen him pitch one inning, but --. We've got a lot of guys, like you said, through trades, and the player development and scouting is working. We are doing what we're supposed to be doing. It's right on schedule, for me. Grady (Fuson) changed some things when he came in here, and we looked for different kinds of players, and different kinds of pitchers. We identified those guys, and boy they're moving through the system. I don't know how it could be any better. I think that Moores and Towers should be really happy with what the system is providing, even on the other side with Venable and Headley and Blanks. I mean, my gosh, we're humming, we're putting some guys in, some position players and pitchers, into the big leagues.

Anthony Bass seemed to struggle a little bit in Lake Elsinore but then bounced back after a terrific year in Fort Wayne. He has such a funky delivery – does that scare you at all?

Bob Cluck: Well, I think in his defense, this guy's got a real good grasp on the mechanics. I think he's got a real good idea, and competes really well. The thing that always sticks out when I see him pitch is this guy stays at it, competes, the mental skills are good. Some guys are good and some guys aren't, but this guy is really solid emotionally. He's a low-maintenance guy for us.

We fixed a couple of mechanical things when we got him, and he just took right to them. Worked on his changeup, and he took right to it. This guy is a piece of cake, for us. He's one of the easier ones.

Did you get a chance to see one of the newer draftees - Jerry Sullivan?

Bob Cluck: You know I didn't, I spend lots of time on scouting this year and coordinated the rehabs, and I did not go to Eugene because I knew I would see him here. I've seen him throw on the side, today would be the second day, so I don't really have an opinion of him yet. I just know what I hear.

Does the same hold true for Chris Fetter?

Bob Cluck: Yeah, same thing. Those guys, I wait until Instructional League to see them, unless I just happen to get them. I didn't see, Fetter was still at Eugene while I was at Fort Wayne, so I didn't see the Eugene guys.

I do it partly because I did a lot of scouting and worked a lot with the rehab guys, we had a lot of guys down here in Peoria. But one other reason is that I hate that first impression when a college guy is throwing a whole season and then I go up there in August and watch him in Eugene and he's gassed! I get this bad read on a guy. I should see him in instructional, after he's had a little time and I get to know him, I get a better feel for him.

What were your impressions of Cesar Carrillo – now two years removed from injury. Did he have the kind of year you expected after last year was really a chance for him to begin regaining his command and stuff?

Bob Cluck: Well yeah, you can throw last year out, and just like on Steve Garrison, next year won't be a do-or-die year. Any body that's post-op, like Stauffer last year, he'll take some time. And that's like a year.

I think you judge Carrillo on the second half of this year. I saw him in San Antonio, he was terrific. I didn't see him in Portland, and he had some trouble in Portland. But Cesar's just now brand new again, and I think his best year, as far as I've seen, is going to be next year because he's going to be into, he's 100 percent healthy, his strength is back. How good he is, he'll let us know next year.

Rafeal Arias couldn't hit the side of a barn when he was in extended spring training but turned in a solid year as the closer. How much did he improve?

Bob Cluck: Well there's a right-handed reliever down here in Peoria who is as much improved as anybody in the system. He was in extended spring and was awful, he couldn't throw the ball into the cage.

Jimmy Jones just did an incredible job with him. Now this kid's downhill with strikes, above-average fastball, his slider and changeup are works-in-progress, but he's 18 or something. He gets me excited when I watch him throw. He's another guy from the Dominican who has a good arm, has mechanical stuff, and knew no English. And now here we are, three or four months later, the delivery is cleaned up, he's learning English. I was working with him yesterday, and it's so nice with my baseball Spanish and his baseball English to get the message across. He's doing fine. He's the guy who could be the Alexis Lara of this year in the Midwest League. My gosh, electric arm.

There seems to be a bigger emphasis on holding runners this year with the pitching staff. Are you happy with the progress made in this area?

Bob Cluck: Yeah, everybody in baseball has a different perspective on that. Mine is, I don't care about it in rookie ball. We address it in A-ball. We start making them aware of it and working with them on it, and we demand it from Double-A on up. If you shove it down their throat too early, you end up with a bunch of guys who hold runners who can't get anybody out. They do a great job of unloading the ball in 1.1.

It's got to be done in sequence, and to be honest not just in our organization, but baseball people in general are too impatient with all of that.

College coaches are doing an awful job with their pitchers. It's nationwide. Trying to get these guys to unload at a young age, and they come in -- Pelzer was one example. This guy -- there was a slide step on every pitch in college. To this day, it still is a project for us, trying to get him some rhythm and some consistency, because when he was in college he was told to unload like that every pitch. He was a reliever, and had a big push at the time. He had no load at all, and he just took a step forward, and because of his arm strength he did okay. He's lucky to still be healthy because of it.

It can't be done too early because it's counterproductive. I was the pitching coach in Houston when we had Craig Biggio. Until we moved him out of catcher, we had no chance to win. He moved to second base, which obviously was a great career move. But when a guy can't throw, the emphasis on my staff there was unload, unload, unload. We were getting guys to 1.1 and they were still stealing every base. Everybody was running more in the National League a lot more than they do today.

I understand the importance of it and I'm all for it, but we don't really demand it and insist on it until they get to Double-A. In fact, one of the things we tell guys is, ‘You're not moving to Double-A until you hold the runners.' That's just kind of an unwritten policy.

Nick Schmidt came back and performed quite well in Fort Wayne. He went on to Lake Elsinore and struggled. Was that just a tired arm since he is coming off surgery and the innings caught up with him?

Bob Cluck: Yeah, I think that's exactly what it was. In fact, I went in and talked to him and saw him pitch and called Grady and Mike and I said, ‘If I were you guys, I would shut this guy down.'

He showed us what he was about in the Midwest. By the time he made that flight across the country, that's when he hit his wall. Everybody that has surgery hits the wall at a different point. His was obviously at that point, because the guy was throwing nothing but strikes, and all of a sudden his command went south on him.

Everybody is not a starting pitcher, and everybody doesn't have the same ceiling on innings. I think Nick is a starting pitcher, but he had surgery. Some healthy guys hit the same wall. Some hit it at 150 innings, some hit it at 180 innings, some hit it not at all the first year, this year, and they hit the wall come next year because of what they did this year. Does that make sense?

One year, we shut down Daryl Kyle in Houston, and they asked me why do you want to shut him down? And I said, ‘Because I want him to have a good year next year.' And they said, ‘What's that got to do with anything?' Trust me on the experience stuff. If he throws 200 innings this year, he's going to be gassed in August next year and start getting his butt kicked. And everybody goes, ‘Well how do you know that?'

‘Hey, I'm just telling you what I think might happen. We don't have a chance to win this year, we got a chance to win next year. We'd like to have him for a whole season so if you want him for a whole season next year, then his number should be 150.' So we cut him off at 150.

I think he might've hit the wall because of the surgery. Another guy that I think hit a wall was Corey Kluber. Kluber stopped throwing strikes when he got to Double-A. It was a two-pronged sword: 1] he gave the Double-A hitters too much credit, and B] I thought he hit a little wall. You log that in and you put it down for future reference, that everybody has a different place and time to hit it.

And I think Nick, whatever it was, 100 innings or whatever he had was enough. I look for Nick to come back next year, and I would guess, I'm not Grady, but I would guess that he starts in Lake Elsinore, and he has a real good year and finishes his year in Double-A. Nick has got talent, and he's very, very smart. I was with him a lot of the rehab process, and I'm impressed with everything about the guy. It's nice that, if there is a silver lining here, he got hurt at the right time. We got him, obviously the damage was done before we ever laid our hands on him. Now we fixed him, and now he gets through his transition year like Stauffer did last year. Now he's ready to roll.

Next year will be great. He's a hell of a kid. Now whether he becomes a star or not remains to be seen. Like Luebke's and the LeBlanc's. Lefties are the hardest people in the world to scout, because there are so many guys that are left-handed and very successful with different kinds of arms. You know, the hard-throwing lefties are so rare, and the guys with average or below-average fastballs can be stars or can be bums. It's so hard to predict! Look at all the guys you've seen in your life who were supposed to be great. The pitching ability, for whatever reason, and mental skills just doesn't develop and the guy fails.

You mentioned Wade LeBlanc. Were you worried he might not get another chance to prove himself on the big stage?

Bob Cluck: Not many clubs, certainly not a lot of clubs, would've given LeBlanc another chance right away based on what they saw the first time. It's a credit to Buddy (Black) that he wanted to start him again. And look what's happened. Now they might have a keeper. I think two weeks ago, they either didn't know if they had a keeper or they didn't want him at all. If I would've seen the games that he'd pitched earlier.

Again, he wasn't ready, he went back, Glenn Abbott, terrific job with him, very close to him. He found the missing ingredient, whatever that was, and now we might have a keeper. You can't make those assumptions early in a guy's career.

The stuff that's happened to us, with Carrillo and Schmidt, it's so commonplace. I've talked to pitching coaches with other organizations, farm directors, general managers, it's all going on. That's another story about why. Youth baseball, travel teams, kids with good arms, the way they're abused and overused. You don't have to look any further than the Little League World Series to see that's true in our country. By the time they get through with their college careers, they're already damaged goods. Well, it's not a problem. You get a guy, and you fix him, and you lose a year, and you go out and you send him back out.

But you see the way these surgeons are now. It's never routine, but it's not something that it used to be. It used to be, ‘Oh my God, the guy's blown his arm, he's done.' Nothing could be further from the truth now. They come back and they take that tendon and they wrap it two or three times when Mother Nature only did it once, and the ligament is now twice as strong as it used to be. Theoretically, the guy comes back with a better elbow than God gave him.

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