Padres not lacking in talent in bigs, Minors
Last season, Mat Latos was the pitcher who brought buzz to the Padres' rotation. During this past offseason, Padres general manager Josh Byrnes seized the opportunity to upgrade the team's farm system. Byrnes traded the highly regarded Latos to Cincinnati for promising prospects, including first baseman Yonder Alonso, catcher Yasmani Grandal, pitcher Brad Boxberger and veteran pitcher Edinson Volquez. Highly chronicled this past winter, the trade is one that may help both clubs.
The absence of an ace like Latos could have provided a void in the Padres' rotation. That may not be the case if left-handed starter Cory Luebke performs as many in the scouting and player development community project. Luebke has the command, control, repertoire and mound presence to become a quality top-of-the-rotation starter for years to come, especially in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Luebke has worked himself into the rotation after initially pitching in the bullpen when he first arrived in San Diego last season.
Luebke was selected by San Diego as a supplemental first-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.
Luebke had an outstanding four-season Minor League career before he was promoted to the Padres. Prior to his promotion, Luebke had two consecutive Minor League seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA. He's efficient and effective at keeping damage to a minimum.
A strong and well-tuned athlete, Luebke's greatest strength is his clean and smooth delivery that he consistently repeats. He doesn't rush his pitches or allow any part of his motion to get out of sync. Luebke's best pitch is a low-90s fastball with late movement. Some scouts refer to his type of fastball as a "heavy ball" because of its late life, natural sink and tailing action. He likes to use both sides of the plate against both right-handed and left-handed hitters. Luebke struggles at times when his pitches catch too much of the heart of the plate. When that occurs, he corrects the flaw quickly before excessive damage is inflicted.
In addition to his fastball, Luebke also throws a crisp slider and a changeup that he has recently improved. Both of those pitches are average to above average in quality. In the past, Luebke's changeup came in a bit too strong. He has worked on throwing a "softer-slower" change (less velocity and more movement) in an effort to better deceive the hitter. It may be the improvement on the changeup that has helped elevate Luebke's role in the rotation.
Because he's not overpowering, Luebke may not be the strikeout pitcher generally associated with a top-of-the-rotation starter. Rather, he gets his share of strikeouts, but the ground-ball outs are more prevalent. Most importantly, Luebke uses his good command and control to stay out of big innings. He could become a big winner in San Diego, even a perennial All-Star.
Andrew Cashner, 25, is a pitcher the Padres can count upon to bolster their bullpen. Cashner has the type of power arm that can allow him to become a Major League closer. He can throw his fastball beyond 100 mph with little effort. He also has a sharp slider that can take some of the velocity off the fastball and keeps hitters off balance, especially if they're sitting on the heat.
Cashner came to the Padres with outfielder Kyung-Min Na in a trade with the Cubs for first-base prospect Anthony Rizzo and pitcher Zach Cates.
Cashner has experienced shoulder problems in the past. He pitched in the Arizona Fall League, where his main goal was to show that he was healthy and his arm was sound. While his numbers weren't good, he accomplished his goal of returning to the mound, working on regaining his mechanics and strengthening his arm. He ended the fall with a 12.46 ERA over 8 2/3 innings. He gave up 14 hits while walking two and striking out seven. The opposition hit .359 off him. Now, he is a member of the Padres' bullpen.
Cashner has such an overpowering fastball that he was used as a starter early in his career. However, his limited repertoire and his ability to blow hitters away helped determine that he's best suited working out of the bullpen.
Cashner uses a little bit of a "buggy whip" in his delivery. He doesn't always cleanly finish his windup, cutting it off short at the end. In addition, I have a concern that Cashner's fastball is relatively straight. His best approach with such high velocity is to "climb the ladder" on the hitter, gradually bringing the pitch higher and higher until the hitter swings at a pitch in his eyes. Once he gains enough experience to iron out those minor mechanical issues, Cashner should be able to stay away from injury and pitch an inning at a time throwing high-velocity fastballs and sliders that miss bats.
The AFL may have been the official coming-out party for Jedd Gyorko, the Padres' second selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. The 23-year-old third baseman won the league's batting title, hitting .437 with five home runs and 22 RBIs.
Not yet on the 40-man roster, Gyorko may very well be on the fast track to San Diego.
Gyorko can hit. In his two Minor League seasons, he has a combined .333 batting average with 32 home runs and 155 RBIs in 844 at-bats covering 208 games, not counting the AFL.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.