Minor league pitcher Luis Lugo has spent the last five years on the mound for the Cleveland Indians organization and is still more than three weeks away from his 22nd birthday. The big left-hander, slotting in at 6’5” and 200 pounds, hails from Barquisimeto, Venezuela, the same hometown as current Indians starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco.
He started his professional career at an extremely young age and spent parts of two seasons in rookie ball before carrying a regular season work load for Indians farm teams in each of the last two years.
“We signed him as a young 16-year-old out of Venezuela and he has continued to mature and grow within our organization,” former Indians vice president of player development Ross Atkins was quoted in an August 2014 story about Lugo on Cleveland.com. “Most notable has been his demeanor, body language and confidence on the mound. This plays up in his pitch mix.”
He pitched for the Indians in both the Dominican Summer League and Arizona League in his first season in 2011, going 0-5 with a 3.93 ERA at the fresh age of 17, striking out 44 batters in 36 2/3 innings. He made eleven more appearances in the Arizona League for the Indians in 2012, going 2-4 with a 4.50 ERA and again posting strong strikeout numbers with 51 in 42 innings.
In 2013, he got his first taste of Class-A ball, making eleven starts for short-season Mahoning Valley and three more for Lake County. His strikeout rate dropped, but so did the number of walks he surrendered. He finished the year with a 1-5 mark and 2.37 ERA.
Two years ago, he nearly doubled his former career high for appearances, pitching in 27 games and throwing 126 1/3 innings as he stretched out into a more regular work load. He was 10-9 with a 4.92 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, but his 10.4 strikeout per nine inning rate was tops on the club and one of the best marks in minor league baseball. His 146 strikeouts were the organization’s season high across all levels of the farm system.
He advanced to Lynchburg for the 2015 season and the adjustment may have been evident in the change in his statistics. While logging just two-thirds of an inning less on the year in two fewer games pitched, he walked a dozen more batters than in 2014 and struck out 27 fewer batters. Twice he had five-walk outings and two more times he walked four batters in a game, aiding in his inflated walk totals. His WHIP climbed from 1.30 to 1.44 and opposing hitters batted eleven points better off of him.
He finished the year with an 8-10 record and a 4.15 ERA. He also reduced his home runs allowed by five. Lugo threw four quality starts in a five-game span in August during one of his better stretches of the season.
Some of the problems he ran in to in 2015 may be attributed to the defense around him; after being hit with just ten unearned runs in his full season at Lake County, he had 25 unearned runs on his sheet for 2015. It kept his ERA down, but 14 of the unearned runs came in games he was dealt a loss and seven more came in no decisions.
Moving forward, Lugo will need to find the strike zone more consistently, reducing his walk rate and getting ahead of counts early and finishing off the hitter. He balances a high-80’s/low-90’s fastball with a slider, curveball, and a changeup.
“When I go out there, I don’t think, ‘I’m going to strike out people’. It just happens, and it’s good,” Lugo said in a June 2014 interview. “I really focus on throwing strikes, locating the ball down in the zone, getting ahead early in the counts. That way, you can dictate the game. If you start throwing strikes early in the game, the umpire will start liking your stuff, too, so he may start to call pitches in your favor.”
“I’ve made some good strides on my slider which I started throwing last year,” he said in an interview back in August. “It’s coming along really good now, I’m throwing it more consistently around the zone.”
Given his age, the Indians could look to return him to the Hillcats for the beginning of the 2016 season, but an advancement to Double-A Akron is not necessarily out of the question. With the drop in his strikeout rate by nearly two batters per nine innings and a jump of almost one additional batter walked per nine, there may be enough statistical basis for letting him get a little more seasoning at High-A in Lynchburg before giving him a more difficult test with the RubberDucks. It would also allow him more opportunity to work with Lynchburg pitching coach Rigo Beltran, a former Major League pitcher who Lugo has worked with during his time with the Hillcats last season and the Captains the season before.
Photo: Jill Nance/The News & Advance