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.
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.
With 19 first-inning runs coming across and a .383 batting average against with runners in scoring position, Luebke was battling from behind.
He was summararily demoted to Fort Wayne. The left-hander went 3-3 with a 2.89 ERA across 10 starts – averaging six innings per start. He allowed fewer hits than innings pitched and walked just nine while striking out 40 across 56 innings.
"Luebke was more mechanical," Padres roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "He used to have that tap-step in his delivery and a lot of little quirks we wanted to work out. We started that process in Fort Wayne where there is a little less pressure and you can get away with a few more mistakes. By the Instructional League, we really hammered it and he got off to a great start this year.
"His velocity is up from where it was a year ago. He is working inside and both sides of the plate much better than he has in the past. Last year, he was pretty one-sided. It is a credit to him. He came into Instructs and mastered all of the things we preached. It has allowed him to have a great year this year."
"Mike Couchee took away the toe tap that he had, it was kind of an unusual, on-the-way-down-the-hill, tapped his toe," former pitching consultant Bob Cluck said. "He did it differently all the time, so it made him kind of inconsistent. Redid him mechanically. And the guy's the opposite of stubborn. He does anything we want him to do. It's all coming together."
The southpaw was back with Lake Elsinore to begin 2009. He dominated from the outset, going 8-2 with a 2.34 ERA across 14 starts. Luebke allowed two runs or less in 11 of his starts, yielding 73 hits and 19 walks while fanning 80 across 88.1 innings. His 4.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranked him third in the league amongst pitchers with at least 80 innings thrown. Luebke allowed just five runs across the first three innings in his 14 starts.
A California League midseason All-Star, Luebke held the opposition to a .227 average. His ERA paced the league at the time of his promotion to Double-A. His 2.58 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) also paced the circuit, as did his 1.02 WHIP. His .293 BABIP was tied for sixth best.
"A lot different guy," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said of the difference between the Luebke of 2008 and the one of 2009. "He started here last year and we had to send him to Fort Wayne.
"He came aggressively. He's always been a hard worker, but he pitched aggressively got a nice downward plane on the ball. He used to have a double tap in his delivery, last year. This year, he didn't have that anymore. It helped him get on top of the ball and keep a downward plane. He was very aggressive with the fastballs, especially inside to right-handed hitters."
The Ohio native went 3-2 with a 3.70 ERA across nine starts with San Antonio. In 41.1 innings, he allowed 38 hits and walked 15 while striking out 32. He held the opposition to a .241 average. He threw 62.5 percent of his pitches for strikes with the Missions and did not allow a single earned run in the opening frame.
"I see a lot of potential in this guy," former San Antonio and current Portland manager Terry Kennedy said. "He's got the size, he's got the stuff. I think that he is very, naïve is not a good word, very inexperienced at this level. But he certainly has the stuff. I see him in the big leagues as a number two or three starter because he's got that kind of stuff."
"He was inconsistent," former San Antonio and current Portland pitching coach Steve Webber said. "He would flash you, in particular games, innings, he'd flash two plus major league pitches, a fastball and a slider. In other games, he would just become erratic and inconsistent. I think that the stuff is there. It's just a matter of him being able to repeat his delivery and repeat the quality of his pitches over the long haul."
Leubke went on to pitch for Team USA in the World Cup. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Team Canada before allowing a lone hit with two outs during a 8-0 shutout that saw the southpaw net 10 strikeouts. Luebke went on to pitch six innings in the second round, allowing one earned on five hits in a no-decision. He returned to the hill in the World Cup championship game, giving up two runs on six hits while striking out seven across 4.1 innings en route to helping Team USA take home the title.
"This guy that I saw on video before the draft, and we projected to be a big-leaguer, this guy's on his way," Cluck said. "We hated to lose him for the playoffs in San Antonio, but it's such a great opportunity for him to go to Team USA and I'm so happy he did well."
The renassaince began in 2008 when he was demoted to Fort Wayne. All year, he was told to stand up taller in his delivery. Leubke had a penchant for bending his plant leg so much that he was nearly dragging his back leg. That meant no downward plane on his pitches and less movement. He also eliminated a toe tap that took away from his follow-through.
Making the adjustments to stand taller and eliminate the toe tap, a number of things fell into place. His location was crisper, the movement of his pitches more pronounced, and the changing eye levels confounded hitters.
"Cory Luebke really found his way this year with his delivery," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "We got him more on line, which really improved his command and leverage. The big thing with Cory now is that we are trying to separate the velocity between his slider and change, both are around the same with him right now. In San Antonio, he was playing around a little bit with different grips on the change."
Luebke relies on a low-90s fastball that can top out at 93-94 mph. The revamped delivery also gave him cutting ability on his fastball down in the zone, getting more ground ball outs than he had in the past.
"He has such a quiet delivery that the ball just explodes out of his hand and you don't really see that," Lake Elsinore pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "It has a natural cut action almost like an Al Leiter. We had to make him aware of using that movement to his advantage."
Another change that occurred in 2009 was the use of his fastball on the inner half of the plate. He never truly attacked the inside corner in the past to get a hitter's feet moving but did so this season with effectiveness.
His slider is also an out pitch that he uses to both left-handed and right-handed hitters. It has good tilting action, and he uses it to expand the zone. Because of the effectiveness of his fastball and increased command, hitters often chase the pitch.
"He had better success with the slider to the righties because obviously he used it more, but when he did throw the change up to the lefties, even though they weren't real good ones, he did have success with it," Rajsich said. "So he knows that now he can do that. Now he has confidence to use them as he's moved up to another level. I'm sure that's what happened.
The changeup is still a work in progress. While he uses it to both lefties and righties, he still throws it too hard and lacks consistency in controlling it within the zone. It will be a focal point in the coming year. One of the positives is he still throws it in an effort to see improvement.
"He was outstanding," Lezcano said. "He was our most valuable pitcher of the year here. This kid just pitched a great game in the World Cup that they are playing in Spain somewhere and he's going to be a big league pitcher.
"He's a hard worker, I could tell – he keeps his notebook. He's always upbeat. He's working hard. It was nice to see him succeed. The way he went about his business – it was outstanding."
Luebke is very open to instruction and change. During his years at Ohio State, he felt that he did not receive proper tutelage. Now that he has been around a coaching staff that has his best interests at heart, Luebke has been an open book that asks questions and applies knowledge.
"The biggest thing was convincing him to pitch to the inner half of the plate, which is what he did not do last year," Rajsich said. "Apparently last year when he came up, he tried to pitch away and nibble and just use his changeup. We just got him to pitch to the inner half of the plate and let him understand that both sides of the plate work, and he had such great success with it the first time. "Unfortunately about three or four games he would try to go away from that plan because he thought that the hitters weren't going to make an adjustment, and they weren't. He was trying to adjust before they did. We had to keep convincing him that until they start hitting you, you don't change the plan. He tried doing that like three different times in the game, and I said, ‘What are you doing? Why would you go away from what's been successful?'
"‘Well, I thought that they were ..'
‘"What you think and what they're doing are two different things.'
"Once he learned to not panic and change the plan till they show they've adjusted, rather than him adjusting before they had, that it doesn't make sense. The biggest thing that happened was we were able to convince him again to use three pitches to both right- and left-handed hitters. Basically last year all that he threw was fastball/changeup to righties and fastball/slider to lefties. We convinced him to use the slider to the righties and changeup to the lefties and it really opened the door for him as far as a starter and expanded how to utilize these three pitches to those kinds of hitters."
With a consistent delivery and repeatable mechanics, Luebke has focused more on curtailing the running game. While he had some issues in Lake Elsinore, he worked on different his looks with San Antonio and saw positive results.
"I really think that this guy, it's possible anyways that he's in the big leagues (this) year at some point," Cluck said.
Conclusion: Luebke has the stuff to top out as a number two starter in the big leagues. With better location and plane on his pitches, he can focus solely on the changeup and bringing that pitch up to snuff. Once the third pitch falls into place, Luebke could be in the major leagues – as soon as 2010. Either way, he will challenge for a rotational spot the following year.
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