When lefty Joey Lucchesi takes the mound at Petco Park tonight, he’ll become the first pitcher from the 2016 draft to appear in a big league game.
Even 24 months ago, when Lucchesi was pitching as a 23-year-old, previously-undrafted senior at Southeast Missouri State, that trajectory would have seemed impossible. But, with a big frame and more velocity than he’d shown at Chabot (Junior) College, he pitched his way into draft consideration.
When the San Diego Padres took him with their fourth-round pick that June, he was seen as an interesting project who gave the club some flexibility with draft bonuses for other players.
Our Coverage History
By the time John got to Tri-City, Lucchesi had already made the claim that he belonged in the conversation with Cal Quantrill and Eric Lauer, who signed much richer deals.
After handling a full workload at SEMO, Lucchesi threw 40 more frames in Tri-City, dominating Northwest League hitters to the tune of a 1.35 ERA with a ridiculous 53:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Not surprisingly, that earned him our Pitcher of the Year nod at that level. We noted then that while Lucchesi’s funky delivery was part of the success, he wasn’t a deception-only mirage like others at that level.
When we talked to Lucchesi during his first Spring Training, he shared a bit of a scouting report on himself.
Having logged only a two-inning cameo in Fort Wayne in 2016, Lucchesi opened the 2017 season in Lake Elsinore, where he didn’t slow down at all. We live tweeted as he struck out the first four hitters he faced on opening night. He gave up two runs that night – and two more over the next 29 innings.
In May, he lagged behind only Dinelson Lamet (whose spot, ironically, he takes tonight) in our player of the month write-up. After spending most of June pitching away from his strength as he developed his breaking stuff, he responded well to a promotion to Double-A San Antonio to start July.
By the time Marcus talked to him again at the end of the year, he owned a 1.79 ERA over 10 outings. The work at both levels earned him the nod as our 2017 organizational Pitcher of the Year and the eighth spot on our top prospects list heading into this season.
What to Expect
Lucchesi works off a low-90s fastball he can either cut or run, paired with a curve and change-up that come out of the same release point. The multiple looks allow him to work effectively to all quadrants of the strike zone.
The drop in strikeouts at the Double-A level is a reminder that, while he’s arrived quickly, he isn’t a likely front-of-the-rotation arm. He is, however, more than a novelty act with a herky-jerky motion.
Lucchesi is not completely in control of his own destiny in terms of the rotation over the coming months. But even if this trip to the majors is a brief one, he’ll likely log more big league work later in the season.
Originally seen as a fringe candidate for the back of a rotation, Lucchesi has leapfrogged several arms above him to get the big league start tonight. Betting against him over-performing his profile has been a losing wager thus far, so do so now at your own risk.