Cluck on Padres pitching prospects

Cory Luebke

Bob Cluck was a minor league pitching consultant with the San Diego Padres before retiring at the end of the year. His advice was touted as instrumental by the coaching staff in the development of many of the young prospects in the system. MadFriars.com caught up with Cluck to discuss many pitching prospects.

Talk about the progression of Simon Castro – a guy that dominated the Midwest League this year.

Bob Cluck: Well you know what we got when they signed him was a kid with a good arm, who spoke no English and had awful mechanics. And here we are three years later, between Mike Couchee and Bronswell Patrick, those guys have transformed this guy into a pitcher.

He's got command of a good, above-average fastball, above-average slider, and a changeup that's probably major league average now but it's getting there. He's going to be over the hump, and be above-average.

I mean this guy's got starting pitcher all over him, he's just what we want.

But this is a real classic case of player development. Scouts go out and find guys with good bodies, strong arms, and now this guy's changed his mechanics completely working with the pitching coaches. Now, he not only speaks English but he's mentoring the young -- during spring training this year he was mentoring the young Latin players, and translating for them. Three years ago, he didn't speak, I'm telling you, not a word of English. He's obviously a smart kid. And that's what this whole thing is supposed to work. The scouts find a guy like that and turn him over to player development, and he's transformed into a prospect. He's doing great.

Are you expecting Adys Portillo to take the same path that Castro did? He has an excellent arm but is finding himself right now as a 17-year-old?

Bob Cluck: Oh, yeah. He's exactly where Castro was three years ago. He's a little further advanced as far as the English, and I mention that again because it's such a factor. With English teachers everywhere and this kid – Venezuelans, historically, come in with better English, so we're not starting from scratch with him. So the communication is better.

Adys is a bright kid and a hard-worker. He's right where he should be. It's unrealistic to look at the radar gun and assume he's going to get people out. Castro couldn't do it three years ago, and Portillo, in many ways, is more advanced than Castro was three years ago. Now does that means it's three years before he dominates the Midwest League? I hope not! But if it is, it is.

Like you say, he's 17, a junior in high school probably, going in to senior year. You have to put it all in perspective. Just because he's been here for a year and a half doesn't mean that he's gonna start jumping up the ladder. You still have to learn all the things that you have to learn. He's doing fine. Our concerns are teaching him a good delivery and polishing up his skills so he can go out and compete. Right now you start to see flashes of it.

I mean, Simon Castro, even two years ago in Instructional League, would throw the prettiest inning you've ever seen, and then look absolutely horrible the next. Last year in Eugene, I went in there twice and I saw the worst game of his year and the best game of his year. It's inconsistent. Now this year, nearly all of his games have been great. So you there with time. As he moves up the ladder, there are going to be people that see bad games from him and good games.

But he's got such a good base. I'm talking about those three pitches. He's spent enough time down here in Peoria and enough instruction on all his pitches, and in my opinion, we're doing it right. We don't -- some organizations, a lot of guys just throw his fastball until he gets command of that and then they address the other issues. That is not intelligent teaching. We're pedal to the metal here, we're teaching that changeup right out of the gate. And that's a big part of his success this year is he commands his slider and his changeup. And Portillo is not to that point yet.

If he can go out and compete like that, it probably won't -- going out and dominate the Midwest League next year. He'll have a better year than he had this year. As time permits, he gets to the Midwest League at 19. He should do fine. That's what player development is. You sign a kid like that, you're looking at five or six years of development.

Wynn Pelzer has always been someone with a lot of talent but has seemed to be missing one ingredient. Does that point to fastball command as the primary issue?

Bob Cluck: Well yeah, I think fastball command and the changeup are the issues. He's got a world-class slider. If we let him, he'd throw that every pitch and he'd dominate, no matter how long his career would be. But we force-feed the changeup to all of our starting pitchers, and we demand, we ask for 20 percent, we settle for 15 percent, of the pitches to be changeups. And Pelzer has done okay with that. He hasn't fully embraced it like some others, and in my opinion, it's held him back some.

But he's got such a great arm and he's very athletic, and again a world-class slider. So it's something to build on. There's no doubt in my mind he'll compete in Double-A next year. Our biggest problem with Wynn is that he's, something that is not good in baseball sometimes, and that he's a perfectionist. He always wants to tinker with his delivery. He's got a bunch of different things that he tries all the time. We're trying to get him to get one delivery out of him so he can be more consistent. Because this guy will show you as good an inning as you'll ever see, and there are innings that he pitches that he could be a big-league pitcher, and there are others that he doesn't compete. So it's just about consistency and him developing one delivery and not always tinkering with it.

Prior to injury, Jeremy McBryde seemed to be embracing the changeup and was on his way towards having a positive year. Is that a fair assessment?

Bob Cluck: Yeah, he was on his way, I thought he was, got over that hump. He was using his changeup; we were looking for a big year of development, get through this year, maybe even get through Double-A before the year is out, and all of a sudden that back thing comes up. The lower back. I'm not smart enough to know how long it keeps him out, he'll be down here soon and we'll -- we can't really do anything with him.

Instead of being on his way and moving to Double-A at some point in 2009, here we are now and, in my opinion, he'll have to repeat California League. And hope to -- he's lost a year with his back.

Nothing to do with his arm, his arm is healthy and I think his head is on straight. I think everything we need about him, the stubbornness to me is gone. He just wanted to have this be the year he advanced and maybe even jump the league and then boom, his back hits him. And those things happen. You put together a group like we had at Elsinore, with (Jeremy) Hefner and McBryde and Pelzer and (Cory) Luebke, and you say, ‘Oh my God, look at all these prospects!' And it's true, except that you're going to lose one to an injury, and thankfully it's not an arm injury in his case, but all the rest of them have not only stayed healthy: (Corey) Kluber moved up, Luebke moved up, (Dexter) Carter and Hefner had got good seasons. Shoot, in that respect, it was a great year. I would rather have that happen than win championships, I mean that's what our job is, to move guys to the big leagues.

You mentioned Cory Luebke. Was the success this season due to the mechanical changes you worked on with him to have him stand up taller and get rid of some flaws?

Bob Cluck: I think so. Yeah, what we did, and Mike Couchee took away the toe tap that he had, it was kind of an unusual, on-the-way-down-the-hill, tapped his toe. He did it differently all the time, so it made him kind of inconsistent. Redid him mechanically. And the guy's the opposite of stubborn. He does anything we want him to do. It's all coming together.

This guy that I saw on video before the draft, and we projected to be a big-leaguer, this guy's on his way. We hated to lose him for the playoffs in San Antonio, but it's such a great opportunity for him to go to Team USA and I'm so happy he did well.

I really think that this guy, it's possible anyways that he's in the big leagues next year at some point.

We've got them stacked up. You know the system as well as I do. We've got so many guys with double-figure wins as starters, so many more than we've ever had before. We're cranking these guys out with the (Wade) LeBlanc's and (Cesar) Ramos's, and (Tim) Stauffer has come back. You know, one guy after another lined up. Our Double-A staff next year will be loaded with starters who have the chance to go to the big leagues from there, or certainly move to Portland before the year's out.

Aaron Poreda was acquired as part of the Jake Peavy deal. Did you get a chance to see him pitch and if so what were your thoughts?

Bob Cluck: You know, I haven't seen him pitch yet. He got to Portland after I'd already been there. All I can tell you is, what I hear is, that he needs some help mechanically, he needs the secondary pitches. That's our job.

Mike Couchee has seen him, has a plan. When we get our hands on him, then that's what we'll do. I think that process has already started. I think the reason they took him to San Diego is so Darren (Balsley) could work with him and get him to whatever point he gets to him, and then we'll pick it up from there. The guy's not, they know he's not, big-league ready just because of his command, but the upside is good.

It's great to dream, but you've got to fix some things. That was a good one. It looks like (Clayton) Richard, I saw Richard pitch the other night in San Diego, and I was very impressed. I think we've got a good one there.

Dexter Carter was another pitcher acquired in that same trade. Obviously, he didn't do well in Fort Wayne but are there signs that he could be great?

Bob Cluck: Dexter Carter could be the sleeper of the bunch. He's got a great body. I saw him just throw on the side, I was in Fort Wayne when we made the deal, so I never saw him pitch in a game.

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