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 3.73/1.27 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.
The 2007 season saw French continue to make strides in many areas, though his statistics may not suggest the same. With a 4.05/1.47 line, French had his share of struggles, but he also tied for second in the Florida State League in games started (27), and ranked fourth in innings pitched (149). On the bad side – and partly due to a very difficult year for the entire Lakeland team – French ranked second in the FSL in losses (14), second in hits allowed (172), second in runs (94), and tied for fourth in earned runs (67). The high point of his 2007 campaign came with a strong June performance (2.70 ERA in six starts) that earned him the TigsTown Lakeland Pitcher of the Month award.
French is a pretty standard lefty prospect, complimenting an average fastball with a solid curve-change combination. His fastball sits in the 88-91 range, with improving command, and it has seen some bumps in consistent velocity in recent seasons. 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, as evidenced by his career mark of 9.74 H/9. 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. While he is willing to use his straight change against righties, it is not effective enough to hold them at bay. Right-handers have killed French in the past (.303/.352/.436 line against in 2007), and he must find a way to get them out in order to remain in a starting rotation long term. Both his curve and change-up have good potential, but they'll need work to become truly useful pitches.
Luke has very hard on himself in the past, often letting his own image of how he's pitching alter the way he approaches the game. Several FSL managers indicated that he was carrying a much more positive and imposing mound presence this season, a trend that must continue going forward. His ceiling is such that he could become a solid back of the 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 has sufficiently proven to be durable and capable of handling a strong professional workload. His true test will come against more advanced hitters and whether or not his stamina and durability extend beyond their current limits, allowing him to battle tougher hitters and more favorable hitter's environments.
After battling through a challenging season with Lakeland, French is a near lock for the Erie rotation to start the 2008 season. Working many of his games in Erie's friendly confines will truly be a challenge for Luke, but given his recent strides in poise and maturity on the mound, he should be able to handle the test.
His first taste of truly advanced hitters will come as a 22-year old, meaning he is doing well with respect to the age-development curve. If he handles the Double-A test with any modicum of success, he will likely start to climb prospect lists, and could become a valuable trade piece for a team with a variety of rotation options over the next few years.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.