BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates will have a very interesting decision to make with Cory Luebke next week. According to Ken Rosenthal, Luebke has an opt-out of his deal on Tuesday, allowing him to be a free agent if the Pirates don’t add him to their roster.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 25, 2016
I’m not sure of the specifics of Luebke’s deal, but I think he would just need to be added to the 40-man roster, rather than the active roster. He would have options remaining if he was on the 40-man roster, meaning the Pirates wouldn’t have to put him on the Opening Day roster if he just has to be added to the 40-man. Either way, Luebke is looking like a guy the Pirates need to protect, based off of Jon Heyman’s tweet last night.
Scouts r buzzing about Cory Luebke, 94 mph (87 curve) with pirates. Hasn't pitched in bigs since 2012. Has out in deal.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 24, 2016
Luebke clarified me today that the 87 MPH pitch was the slider, which has gotten up to 89 MPH in the past. His fastball used to sit around 90-91 MPH as a starter, but would touch 95, and obviously there was a chance it could play up in a relief role. But the special thing about these numbers is that they come after three years off from the left-hander.
At the start of camp, I wrote about how Luebke was trying to make a comeback, after spending three years out with elbow injuries — two Tommy John surgeries, and a minor procedure that put him out most of 2015. Prior to that, he had some impressive numbers pitching out of the San Diego rotation. The fact that he’s showing his old velocity again is a very encouraging sign. For Luebke, it’s also a great feeling after everything he’s gone through.
“I feel good. I guess just happy,” Luebke said with a laugh. “I has been a long time to get it to feel this way. I had a pretty good feeling coming into camp, how it was going to feel. And then the hamstring was frustrating, having to wait for that to heal, to be able to [pitch] again. Just excited, happy to be here, and just having fun again.”
Luebke entered camp ready to compete for an opening in the Pirates’ bullpen, with Tony Watson as the lone lefty reliever on the team. Early in camp, he went down with a hamstring injury in his right leg, and it initially looked like his chances of making the Opening Day roster were shot. But the injury healed, and he was able to work his way back into games, with enough time to work his way into the roster mix.
“Coming into camp, I was excited,” Luebke said. “Five or six weeks for the team to get to know me, the way I pitch, and how I go about things. For that to get kind of cut short, that had me a little nervous. It healed up pretty quick, and to be out there throwing again has been just fun for me.”
For a guy that saw setback after setback for the last three years, after looking like a very promising young pitcher in 2012, this was very disappointing news. But for a guy who had gotten used to setbacks, Luebke didn’t let it get him down.
“I think if I’ve learned anything the last three years, it’s to always find that silver lining,” Luebke said. “I think with the amount of time I’ve had off, I try to look at it [as] just saving bullets now for November. There’s a lot of ways you can look at it. I’m just glad it’s feeling good and we’re back on track.”
Luebke said that his stuff is feeling good, and that the ball is coming out a little easier and better than before. He said that’s a good sign that the elbow is doing well, and now he needs to focus on knocking off some rust and pitching. As for his command, and the action of the pitches, Luebke likes what he’s seen, but hasn’t started showing great results yet.
“I gave up some runs the last two, but those were more mental mistakes than anything,” Luebke said. “That’s part of getting back into it. My body feels good, and I need to make sure I’m thinking out there.”
The roster decision that the Pirates have to make is a tough one. If all it takes is adding Luebke to the 40-man roster, then it’s a bit easier, as they don’t have to commit their final bullpen spot to a guy who might need some additional time to get back in the swing of pitching. But they don’t have many options to knock off the 40-man roster, and several options who could be added, like Cole Figueroa, Matt Joyce, and fellow lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty. But with his history, and the stuff being back, it would be difficult to pass on Luebke and let him get away.
We’ll see how it plays out on Tuesday. As for Luebke and his preference, right now he’s just happy to finally be healthy and pitching well again, after so many setbacks along the way.
“I knew coming in, if I would pitch the way I knew I could pitch, things would take care of themselves,” Luebke said. “I’m just glad to be throwing. The business side is something we have to address sometimes, but whatever happens here, I’m just going to be happy I’m throwing again and feeling good.”
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.