You’ve got to feel for Corey Luebke.
Just three years ago, he was an up-and-coming left-handed starter coming off his first full major league season. In his rookie season, 2011, he pitched 139.2 innings (17 starts in 46 appearances) with 154 strikeouts, and a 3.29 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and .209 BAA. He was 26 years old, and had nowhere to go but up.
In 2012, Luebke was named the number two starter in an otherwise lackluster rotation. Through five starts, he was 3-1 with a 2.61/1.16/.233 line. Should he have kept those numbers consistent, there is little doubt that he would have made the All-Star team, and been a centerpiece which the Padres could have built around.
But then, it all came to a screeching halt. It was revealed that he was going to need elbow reconstruction (i.e., Tommy John) surgery. Given that 12-18 months are needed for a full recovery, this meant that Luebke was done for 2012, but would have a decent chance of returning in the middle of 2013. And if you know anything about the San Diego rotation last year, you know they could have used him.
It didn’t happen. Three times, the Padres had to shut him down because his arm didn’t feel just right.
At any rate, the expectation for 2014 was that he would be a candidate for the rotation; or at the very least, he would fill a similar roll that he did in ’11: long relief with a chance to start whenever a member of the rotation went on the Disabled List.
But as fans know, it wasn’t to be: earlier this week, it was made known that Luebke is again going to have to go under the knife for the same surgery. This means that he might be ready for the 2015 season, when he will be turning 30 years old.
So it bears repeating: you’ve got to feel for Corey Luebke.
What This Means for the Padres
This news means that the Padres are once again going to be without a pitcher who has tremendous potential. No matter how much pitching a team has, losing a player like this is painful.
What remains unchanged, however, is that the rotation is stronger than it was a year ago. Andrew Cashner (who is also a a Tommy John recoverer) made tremendous strides last year, and figures to be the ace. Rounding out the rotation will likely be free agent signee Josh Johnson, Tyson Ross (who pitched far better than his 3-8 record indicates), Ian Kennedy (just three years removed from a 21-game-win season), and lefty Eric Stults.
Luebke’s absence does not change any of that. What it does do, however, is give those under him a clearer path to the big leagues should any of the starting five break down, and Cashner and Johnson do have injury histories. Those who are now in line to jump in in such a scenario include Robbie Erlin and Burch Smith, who, while inconsistent, showed flashes of brilliance in stints with the Padres; youngsters Keyvius Sampson, Donn Roach and Matt Wisler; and Tommy John recoveries Joe Wieland and Casey Kelly.
On the whole, the Padres are still a much better team than they were last year. If they catch a few breaks, they may challenge for the wild card. But now, they will have to do it without Corey Luebke, a piece they had been counting on.