Repetition Leads to Success for Luis Lugo
David Freier | On 07, Sep 2016
For most players, a repeat assignment to a minor league level is not a sign of team commitment or individual progress. For High-A Hillcats pitcher Luis Lugo, this is not the case.
The 6’5”, 200 lb. left-hander out of Barquismento, Venezuela, turned 22 just before the season began. This leaves him on the younger side of the ledger for players in the High-A Carolina League and with his experience, he has surpassed his performance of last season.
“My work ethic has been a lot better this year,” said Lugo about where he has made the most strides in improving his overall game. “I’ve been focusing on mechanics and keeping my body in shape to be able to compete and be successful. My delivery has gotten better, and working with Rigo Beltran [the Hillcats pitching coach], has been a foundation for me to figure out what I need to work on and then apply in the game.”
Comparing his stat lines for the past two seasons, Lugo has made several noticeable improvements. His record is 8-5 this season, compared to 8-10 last year. He established new career highs in games started and innings pitched, and reduced his runs allowed from 83 in 2015 to only 68 in the current season. For the third year in a row, he has tallied over 100 strikeouts (with 113) which ranks him seventh in the Carolina League. This was a significant contribution to a Hillcats team that led the league in strikeouts of opposing batters, topping the Frederick Keys staff by four.
It is not these obvious statistics where Lugo has made the biggest gains. It has been his overall maturity and presence on the mound and in the clubhouse where he has really advanced.
When asked if he has stepped up in a leadership role he replied, “Absolutely. [My success] has given me a lot of confidence. Learning to attack hitters and be able to compete. Now winning the championship and all that goes along with that is our next goal.”
In seven consecutive starts through July until the middle of August, Lugo reduced his ERA in each outing. In that stretch, he won four consecutive games and never failed to pitch at least five innings. In the middle of this run, fellow Hillcats starter Justus Sheffield was traded to the Yankees and Lugo needed to move his game up another notch as his role became even more significant to the team.
“Everybody has each others’ backs here,” Lugo said about the strong team-first atmosphere on the Hillcats. “Whether we are on the field or off the field, we get along fine and that is a huge part of what a winning team needs. Everyone knows what they need to do on and off the field.”
In a leadership role it is not just his demeanor on the mound, but it is his presence in the clubhouse. Having taught himself how to speak English, he now often serves as an interpreter or translator for many of his teammates as they work diligently to learn a second language while becoming better able to communicate more effectively within and beyond the game of baseball.
Having thrown more innings than any previous year in his career, sticking to the routines he has established with the Indians coaching and training staff has helped him weather the physical drain that can hit at the end of a long season.
“My offseason preparation this past year was strong,” he said. “Coming into the season and being able to notice the things I needed to work on and translate that into the game has been good. This was important to me to help me stay healthy and has contributed to the hard work I have been doing.”
As the Hillcats team gears up for another trip to the playoffs and a run at a Carolina League Championship, Lugo has developed a more balanced and mature approach to his own success and the impending offseason.
“Same as last year. Keep grinding away,” he shared. “Whether it be in the playoffs or the offseason, just work to stay in shape and be ready when the next season begins.”
He was the number 25 prospect in the Indians organization according to Baseball America when the 2016 season opened. He was not protected on the team’s 40-man roster and was not selected by another team in the Rule V draft in the offseason. This year, his maturation and performance have increased the likelihood of being protected that way, or potentially getting an opportunity with a new organization.
Either way, after completing his second season in the Carolina League, Lugo will be ready for the challenge.
Photo: Jay Westcott/The News and Advance