Padres' Lucchesi stays in complete control

Left-hander cruised in first full season, unscored upon this spring

Working in his first Major League Spring Training, 2016 fourth-rounder Joey Lucchesi has earned fans' notice. (Josh Jackson/MiLB.com)

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | March 21, 2018 12:00 PM ET

PEORIA, Arizona -- Turn any which way in Padres camp and there's a talented prospect who flashed brilliance last season.

Even among this promising crowd, Joey Lucchesi stands out. Coming off a season in which he went 11-7 with a 2.20 ERA with 148 strikeouts over 139 innings across two levels, the 24-year-old left-hander has unreeled three scoreless appearances -- one start -- and fanned six over seven frames in his first taste of the Cactus League.

"He had a tremendous [2017]," San Diego director of player development Sam Geaney said. "He was probably the standout performer on the pitching side throughout our organization. I don't think anybody had a bigger year."

The Southeast Missouri State product passed into his senior year of college undrafted but was taken in the fourth round of 2016. Now the Padres No. 9 prospect, he was ranked 28th in the San Diego system last June. The Bay Area native was named a California League All-Star and turned in one more start for Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore after the break, finishing the circuit 6-2 with a 2.52 ERA. Moving up to the Double-A Texas League, he was even better, putting up a 1.79 ERA while posting a 5-3 mark over 10 games -- nine starts -- for San Antonio.

"My arm felt stronger. My body felt stronger. I just felt good. I felt like I wanted to keep going when the season ended. I really wanted to keep pitching," the Southeast Missouri State product said. "That was the most innings I've ever thrown, but I still felt good. I try to kick my butt in the offseason so that I can withstand all that's going to happen in the coming year."

There was a mental component to the Double-A success too.

"I got smarter about handling failure, because I hadn't handled failure that much and I handled some in [Class A Advanced] and just regrouped myself and became a more mature baseball player mentally. I understood what needed to be done and I attacked hitters better," Lucchesi said.

"Failure" is a relative term. Only once in 14 Cal League starts did he permit as many as four earned runs.

"I know everyone likes to compete, but when I'm on the mound and I get a win but I give up two runs, I'll still feel like I lost. I'll get the urge to get better. I don't ever like relax like that in my mind," Lucchesi admitted. "I'm always pushing myself to be elite. I'm not trying to sound like an arrogant person -- that's just how my mind works. I have a standard where I need to get a low ERA -- I'm not a stat guy, but ERA I'll pay attention to."

His mental makeup is part of what's made the transition to pro ball look so easy. However high his standard on the mound, he's a happy-go-lucky, conversational guy off the diamond.

"I think very much his approach to life, his approach to baseball, it adds. It helps him," Geaney said.

That approach is fairly simple, as Lucchesi explains it.Offseason MiLB include

"What works for me is: Do what I need to do out here, keep my family happy, my girlfriend happy," he said. "As long as I'm doing what I need to do in my routine every day in practice, doing my workouts in the weight room and running, I feel like my body and mentally, I'm fine. And when I'm on the mound, everything that I've done, it's good, it's just time to go."

The Padres, pleased with how it's played out so far, haven't tinkered with Lucchesi's method or with his distinctive windup. The 6-foot-5 southpaw raises his hands far over his head, drops them to his face and goes into a motion that pauses with the hands below his belt, making him hard to time. He tilts his body slightly toward center field and reels far back, keeping the ball hidden for a long time before firing to the plate.

"Our scouts definitely identified him as a guy who can move quickly [through the organization], and we've seen that," Geaney said. "We have not had to do a whole lot with Joey. He came to us a little older but very advanced -- command of three pitches [fastball, curveball, changeup] -- three real pitches. He does it a little differently. In this case, he knows his delivery and he repeats it. I think it's very much a positive that it's a unique look."

Lucchesi has made minor adjustments to his timing of the motion as well as with the rhythm of his game, speeding up since he debuted with 40 innings in the Class A Short Season Northwest League and two in the Class A Midwest League in 2016.

"I've learned from all the pitching coaches who have helped me with tempo. In Double-A there's a [pitch] clock. That also helped me to pick up my tempo and I'm throwing better," he said. "I'm still kind of slow [in the motion], but I'm quicker [than I was]. Being in tempo and rhythm with a faster pace of game -- the coaches have helped me out a lot with that."

Finding himself on a pitching staff with big league veterans and accomplished sluggers such as Nelson Cruz, Lucchesi picks up what he can from his teammates while continuing the process that got him this far.

"Staying in my lane. Just tunnel vision, focusing on myself. You know there's pressure obviously, but you try to not think too much about it. Just be calm. Do the best I can do. I know I had a great season last year and I just wanted to carry into this year that mentality to try to make it even better."

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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