Position: Left-handed Pitcher
As a high school senior, French was named both a pre-season and post-season High School All-American; getting the opportunity to pitch in the AFLAC All-American game, as well as several other showcase events. Despite a commitment to UNLV, there was little doubt French was turning pro if given the opportunity. The Tigers selected Lucas in the 8th round of the 2004 draft, and promptly assigned him to the GCL. Despite a measly 1-3 record, Lucas pitched very well in his debut; notching a 2.74 ERA and nearly a strikeout per innings, while also yielding only one homerun in 50 innings.
The 2005 season was one of many moves for Luke, as he bounced between the GCL, Midwest, and Florida State Leagues, serving all three farm clubs well. On the whole for the season, French logged only 67.2 innings with a 5-3 record and a mediocre 5.45 ERA. French battled inconsistency and conditioning during his second season.
French came into camp in 2006 ready to pitch, and it showed, as he posted 157 innings for West Michigan; good for 6th in the Midwest League. French also ranked in the top ten in the league in wins (11), and finished the season with a sparkling 3.72/1.27 line. In July, Luke took home a MiLB.com Pitcher of the Week Award, his first award as a pro; and he was in contention for the TigsTown West Michigan Pitcher of the Year award.
French is a pretty standard lefty prospect, complimenting an average fastball with a solid curve-change combination. His fastball sits in the 87-90 range, with improving command. He throws strikes as a matter of routine, but he must begin throwing more quality strikes low in the zone. Luke often elevates his fastball, leaving him much more hittable to both lefties and righties than he should be. He has played with both cutting and sinking his fastball, but neither has progressed much as of yet.
His curveball and change are average pitches, lacking the consistency to be more than that. He spins a big, looping breaker that he leaves up in the zone too often. If he can begin to bury the pitch on the back foot of righties, it will increase his effectiveness by leaps and bounds. He is able to work his straight change down and away to right-handers, but he struggles commanding it to lefties. Both pitches have good potential, but they'll need work to become solidly useful pitches.
Luke is very hard on himself, often letting his own image of how he's pitching alter the way he approaches the game. He is passionate about his performance, with a strong competitive streak. He must learn to curb his emotions and remain in control of his game. His ceiling is such that he could become a solid mid-rotation starter with some progress from at least one of his secondary offerings.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG A
French occasionally battles conditioning issues, but he slowly seems to be getting that under control. If his 2006 season is any indication, he should be able to eat innings at nearly any level. His mechanics are not repeated easily, but progress has been made, and should be able to avoid many arm troubles as he learns to further repeat his delivery.
French should be a key cog in the L-Tigers rotation in 2007, along with Burke Badenhop and Erik Averill. He must keep the ball down in Lakeland, or he could see a significant spike in his homerun rate, and subsequently his ERA. His strikeout rates have plummeted against more advanced competition, and he'll have to work hard with his new pitching coach to regain some of his deception.
He lacks a true out-pitch at this time, and without that he'll be forced to rely on his defense heavily. The 2007 season should be a big one for French, and for the Tigers evaluation of him. With the new CBA rules, Detroit will have two more seasons before they must decide on his 40-man future, so they'll take their time and give him the opportunity to develop. Expect French to log a lot of innings this season, and if he commands his pitches well, he may be among the league leaders in quality starts at season's end.
Mark Anderson covers the Tigers' minor league system and all of minor league baseball for TigsTown.com. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.