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 him 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 inning, 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 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 nice 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.
Moving up to Lakeland in 2007, French was a workhorse on the Flying Tiger staff. He logged the fourth most innings in the league (149) while starting 27 times for Lakeland; a mark good enough for second in the circuit. A porous defense and a struggling team saddled French with 14 losses on the year, a figure not entirely indicative of his performance. Luke did turn in one outstanding month; posting a 2-2 record and 2.70 ERA in six May starts to earn the TigsTown Lakeland Pitcher of the Month award.
French continued to follow the logical promotion path, heading to Double-A Erie for the 2008 season; making his upper level debut at just 22-years old. He logged a career high and league high in innings with 170 last summer, and his performance actually improved as the season wore on. A strong performance from July through September earned him a TigsTown monthly award, and vaulted him to the TigsTown Erie Pitcher of the Year honor. French posted three complete games to tie for first in the Eastern League, and finished the season with a 4.05 ERA in 26 starts.
Luke is rarely going to impress observers who have only seen him for a limited sample. His value becomes evident watching him start after start, when he routinely works deep into games and gives his club a chance to win most starts. French is a competitor who adjusts to his opponents quickly and will find ways to get outs without his best stuff. He has had bouts with confidence problems in the past, but league coaches have seen an improvement in this area over the last two seasons.
French's arsenal is solid across the board, with a fastball that can range anywhere from 84 to 90. He works consistently around 87-88 with some late movement, and he excels at throwing it for strikes early in the count to get him in a good position to work hitters with his off-speed pitches. His curveball is a solid-average pitch with some strong downer break that can get some swings and misses. He lacks command of the pitch, and must improve his ability to throw it for strikes when needed. French rounds out his repertoire with an average change-up that has nice arm-side fade and can be effective against right-handers. He managers have felt that he doesn't back up his fastball with a change-up often enough; leaving the pitch a little underutilized.
French's mechanics are generally clean, and have become much more repeatable now that he has taken his conditioning and training more seriously. He works quickly on the mound, remains poised, and is an intelligent player who is almost always positioned correctly. He profiles best as a back of the rotation starter or swing man in the bullpen.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG AA
French has continued to prove capable of handling heavy workloads, having logged roughly 150+ innings in each of the past three seasons. He carries his stuff and maintains his mechanics deep into games and seasons, which speaks to the durable nature of his arm and the added attention he has given his conditioning in recent years. There is not substantive history of arm trouble with French.
There isn't much projection left here. Luke is what he is, a solid starter with a durable frame and enough stuff to keep his team in the ball game. After an average season at Double-A, Luke will enter the 2009 season with a chance at making the Toledo roster out of spring training. I would expect him to again be around or slightly better than league average. French could be a semi-viable option for Detroit late in 2009, but more likely will have to wait until the 2010 season to get a true look.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.