MadFriars' Pitcher of the Year: Joey Lucchesi

The San Diego Padres made a splash in the 2016 draft when they had five picks in the first two rounds. They used two of their three first-round picks on pitchers, in total using ten of their first twelve selections on pitchers. While many of them have excelled since being drafted, none have performed quite as well as a lefty senior-sign out of Southeast Missouri State,Joey Lucchesi.

In 2017, across two leagues, he compiled an 11-7 record with a 2.20 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 139 innings.

Right on, said Lucchesi in a phone interview after being told he was the MadFriars Pitcher of the year at his northern California home. My goals for the year were to work my butt off and do the best job I could. So, it is great to see that the hard work paid off.

The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Lucchesi came into the year after a strong previous season that saw him lead the NCAA in strikeouts, and then put up a 1.29 ERA across his first 42 professional innings in his professional debut; mainly with the short-season Tri-City Dust Devils. The Padres thought enough of him to skip a full season of Low-A Fort Wayne and instead sent him straight to the hitter-friendly California League in High-A; which Lucchesi thrived.

In 14 starts with the Lake Elsinore Storm, Lucchesi boasted a 2.52 ERA, with a 0.95 WHIP and 10.87 strikeouts per nine innings. That was good enough to be named to the Cal League Mid-Season All-Star team.

I loved the competition. I took the mound every time with the thought that I was good enough to get hitters out, and if I made the best pitch possible, I would be successful.

Joey was one of our strongest performers all year, said Padres Director of Player Development Sam Geaney on what he saw from Lucchesi this year. He did a lot of things really well but what impressed me the most was his command of his secondary stuff. On nights where he didnt have his best stuff it was fun to just watch him compete and battle with his mix of pitches.

Whenever Lucchesi did not have his best stuff on the mound it wasnt evident in the box score. Over his 14 starts in Lake Elsinore, he allowed more than three earned runs just once.

One of the things that made Lucchesi so dominant is hisunorthodox pitching motion with all its hitches and pauses combined with a deceptive delivery, makes it difficult for batters to pick up the release point on his pitches. He throws a pair of two-seam fastballs, each breaking a different way, a changeup, and a curveball. Essentially, everything is down and moving within the strike zone.

In early July, the Padres promoted Lucchesi to Double-A, where he continued to show promise and poise. I love his unorthodox wind-up and he is always keeping the ball around the plate and down low, said San Antonio Missions announcer Stu Paul. I think his unusual windup kept the hitters off balance and he also fields his position quite well.

In his 10 games with the Missions, Lucchesi put up even better numbers amassing a 1.79 ERA in 60.1 innings.

I really have to thank my coaches, said Lucchesi on the reasons for his strong performances with the Storm and the Missions. I was doing really well at the beginning before having a couple tough outings. They taught me how to not get down on myself and bounce back. They helped me succeed when I didnt have everything working and taught me how to become a better student of the game.

As Missions manager Phillip Wellman is fond of noting, Double-A is the first level where players begin to compete against others that are not only significantly better from previous levels but also more experience which makes the jump from A-ball to Double-A arguably the biggest one in the minor leagues.

In San Antonio, I really had to study the game more. I would go over scouting reports, and really start figuring out and exploiting the hitters weaknesses, Lucchesi said on the differences from the previous levels.

It also helped that I felt that I was getting stronger throughout the season. Not only did my pitches feel crisper, but my arm strength ticked up. I was sitting 92 topping out 94 and by the end of the season I topped out at 96, sitting 93-94. Getting more speed with the same movement definitely helped.

His season culminated in a Texas League playoff win against Midland where Lucchesi threw a seven-inning shutout.

Pitching in the playoffs was a lot of fun. I had a different mentality and didnt really care about getting strikeouts. I just wanted to get ahead in the count and get outs.

When asked what his goals are for the offseason and next year, he was quick to answer.

I want to be able to perfect my curveball and throw it with as much confidence as I do my [two-seam] fastball. My dream has always been to make it to the show. I know I am not in control of that, but I will do everything I can to make myself better.

Thats my dream you know? And Im going to do everything I can to make it happen.

Ben Davey is a contributor to Fox Sports San Diego and you can follow him atMadFriars.com

MadFriars will be back with the MadFriars Top 20 on the day when pitchers and catchers report.