Name: Corey Kluber
DOB: April 10, 1986
Drafted in the fourth-round of the 2007 MLB Draft out of Stetson, Kluber was shipped 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.
Despite a rough playoff ride, San Diego liked what they saw from Kluber in his debut season and decided he didn't need to see the Midwest League in ‘08. They skipped him to High-A Lake Elsinore for more than a playoff taste.
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.
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-handed hitters satted .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.
"Kluber had one very good game here last year where he could have pitched in the big leagues, but was just inconsistent," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "His fastball command is much better, but when his command is on with the slider and changeup he has – it's a big league arm."
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.
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.
Kluber returned to the California League in 2009. He made 19 starts with the Storm, going 7-9 with a 4.54 ERA. In 109 innings he allowed 110 hits and walked 36 while striking out 124. He allowed two runs or less in seven starts and five runs or more seven times in an up-and-down campaign. Kluber did average just less than six innings per start. He also led the California League in strikeouts per nine innings amongst pitchers with at least 100 innings, fanning 10.24 per. He also placed fourth with a 3.15 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) in a known hitter's league.
"First of all, we did not score too many runs with this guy," Lezcano said. "The fastball command has to be there. He's got a good arm. He's got a big league arm. It's just a matter bringing it altogether. It didn't go his way here too good, we didn't score too many runs for him."
He held right-handed hitters to a .231 average while lefties managed to hit .292 off him in California League play. Thirty-nine of the 110 hits he allowed went for extra bases. His .355 BABIP was the fifth-worst mark amongst all pitchers with 100 or more innings.
Moved up to Double-A in July, Kluber posted a 2-4 record with a 4.60 ERA in nine starts. His walk totals, however, grew. He issued a free pass to 34 in 45 innings, walking at least three in eight straight outings. Just 55.9 percent of his pitches went for strikes.
"Kluber stopped throwing strikes when he got to Double-A," former pitching consultant Bob Cluck said. "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."
"I think he scuffled a little bit with the move from High-A to Double-A, which there is really no need for him to do because his stuff is very good," former San Antonio and current Portland pitching coach Steve Webber said. "He had some growing pains early. He was very erratic with his fastball.
"In the last two outings, he just put it altogether. I think he probably realized that he was giving hitters too much credit, became more aggressive with his fastball, pitched more to contact. His slider and changeup were very good. So I think it was a matter of him getting acclimated to a higher level and understanding that his pitches are going to work there."
"He put so much pressure on himself to excel every time he goes out there," Padres roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "With Kluber last year, I thought it was more mental, He worked his butt off in the winter and had a really good year."
"Spring training was absolutely superb," Lake Elsinore pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "His changeup had such bottom to it and grip. It had a great feel. I think he lost the feel for it, because he started over throwing. In spring training he was right about 90. 88-90. And now he's throwing 93 and up. I think he's trying to do too much. He's trying to blow through that balance point and he got too deliberate and he lost the feel for the changeup for a while. That's not him."
Kluber throws both a two- and four-seam fastball. He commands his four-seam much better than the two-seamer but has been working on making the two-seam more than just a show-me pitch. Both fastballs run around the same speed, tipping the scales in the low-90s and reaching 93 mph. His two-seamer has had more velocity than his four-seamer at times – a rare oddity. Sitting 88-91 is where he has the most success because he is not overthrowing, and it makes his changeup even better.
Falling behind in the count has been a bit too common for the right-hander. That boils down to fastball command, or lack there of.
"First outing was awesome - six innings," fomer San Antonio and current Portland manager Terry Kennedy said. "He gave up one hit and a run. Then he ran into that walk thing where he walked four or five guys a game. And then he got better at the end, the last outing in the playoffs obviously wasn't that good. I think he learned some things, and even though it didn't turn out like he wanted or like we wanted, I think that in the end I saw some confidence build in him that, ‘I can pitch at this level.'"
His slider is a plus pitch and the one he looks to put hitters away with. It has great tilting action that he can bury and get hitters to chase or throw for a strike. He throws it in any count and has supreme confidence in the pitch. His high strikeout totals can be attributed here.
His changeup has been a bit erratic. When he is on, his changeup is tremendous. Its six-inch drop has hitters waving the bat in dismay. There are times, however, when the ball doesn't break well. A lot of that is mechanical when his arm lags behind his body.
Kluber is very deliberate in his motion and will take too much time between pitches, losing his focus and rhythm. When he is faltering, his delivery seems to slow down to a crawl. If the pace and tempo of his motion is quickened, Kluber sees better results. Perhaps it is leaving the mental checks behind and simply doing what his body commands that allows him to see better results. Or the slow movements allow for a higher margin for error.
Eliminating a double-tap with his plant foot has helped him be more fluid and aggressive within the zone.
"Klubs, the biggest thing was he always has a tendency to become too methodical, too mechanical," Rajsich said. "He was really slow and deliberate, and once we picked up his tempo, you could really see him catch on fire and get into a better rhythm. The game just kind of took off. I think he gets to the point where he gets a little "grouse" is my analysis type of thing.
"As you speed up his delivery, he becomes more fluid, and he's able to utilize all his pitches. The one thing that I did notice that as the season progressed his body angle starts to change to the plate, and he starts missing arm side out and up, especially with his changeup and his fastball. That's when you have to recognize it. The hips are starting to close off, his strides are starting to get more closed so he can't finish. He's cutting himself off to the opposite side of the plate. When you make those adjustments and make him aware of that, all of a sudden he fixes it and comes back on line. I think that was the biggest thing was just making him aware of his own mechanics and how to fix them and how to get himself back on track."
One of the challenges he has faced is on the mental side of the game. He has such an even-keel on the outside but has to processes everything in a logical manner before he puts it into application. He is also hard on himself and will take everything to heart – even though the exterior wouldn't show he was bothered by anything.
"His head," Couchee said of his challenges. "We talk about how much of this game is mental. I was talking to Bronswell Patrick about this the other day, that group that began the year in Lake Elsinore – they are all big league pitchers. They all have big league stuff. They will all pitch in the big leagues one day.
"To me, they are such perfectionists that they make the game too hard on themselves. I will talk to all of them about it. Go out there and relax and let their stuff take care of what happens in the game. They are so anal a"bout everything. "Kluber is a perfectionist."
Conclusion: Kluber will flash big league stuff one day and be ordinary on others. Obviously, fastball command is the starting point. He must also be cognizant of his tempo and rhythm. When they are not in sync, neither is his stuff. If he can harness all of his energies on a consistent basis, Kluber is a backend of the rotation starter that can log a lot of innings.
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