The Padres pulled a bit of a fast one on the rest of baseball by scheduling left-handed pitching prospect Joey Lucchesi to start the Friars’ second game of the year versus the Brewers on Friday. The 24-year-old lefty spent last season split between High- and Double-A, netting 148 strikeouts in 139 innings while walking just 33. He spent most of this spring on the minor-league side of camp and only tossed 11 innings with the big club.
Lucchesi appeared within the honorable-mention section of our top-100 list as a 50 FV prospect. We considered him a No. 4 starter who was pretty likely to realize that outcome relatively soon. His stuff is generic. He sits 89-92, will touch 94, both of his breaking balls are average, and his changeup is slightly above.
What makes Lucchesi unique are his cartoonish on-mound mannerisms, many of which aid his effectiveness. He has a drop-and-drive delivery and extreme overhand arm slot, two opposing forces which create an odd initial look for hitters and cause Lucchesi’s fastball plane to be very flat, which is especially effective when he works up in the zone. Typically, pitchers with this sort of arm slot have a difficult time working east and west within the strike zone, but Lucchesi is athletic enough to maintain his delivery while making subtle variations. It allows him to do things like attack right-handed hitters in on the hands with his fastball. He also has a deep, downward-plunging stab as he loads his arm.
The flat-planed fastball works well in concert with the changeup, and both of Lucchesi’s breaking balls play up against lefties because of his delivery’s deception. In a vacuum, he’s a 45 fastball, 50 curve, 50 slider, 50 changeup guy with potential plus command. With the mechanical funk thrown in, though, everything plays up a half-grade or so. Fold into that Lucchesi’s ability to control the run game with a great pick-off move and timing variations from the stretch, and you’ve got a big-league ready, 24-year-old arm despite relatively little upper-level experience. I think he can compete at the big-league level right now.
Lucchesi will also serve as a data point to better understand Padres LHP prospect MacKenzie Gore, as Gore and Lucchesi possess shockingly similar deliveries. Gore, too, gets extremely low to the ground, using a vertical arm slot and stride direction that makes hitters visibly uncomfortable. Unlike Lucchesi, Gore sits 93-96 with a bunch of 55 and 60 secondaries. It’s not feasible to teach such a delivery across a wide population of pitching prospects because so few of them are athletic enough to maintain it. But we might be able to extrapolate exactly how much Gore’s stuff will play up against opposing hitters compared to his raw stuff by watching Lucchesi.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.