Big strides solidify pitcher's top prospect status

Low-A left-handed pitcher Luis Lugo is making a statement in the Indians farm system this season.

Luis Lugo pitches during spring training for the Indians.

Tony Lastoria/FOX Sports Ohio

The Indians have a lot of young, talented pitchers scattered throughout the lower levels of their organization and the one with the most upside of them all might be Low-A left-handed pitcher Luis Lugo.

Lugo, 20, is having a sensational season so far this year with a 4-4 record and 4.56 ERA in 12 appearances (seven starts). That record and ERA may be rather pedestrian at first glance, but this is the minor leagues and peripherals are where the focus is at for most players. The focus is rarely on things like a pitcher's win-loss record or their ERA -- two things that they often can't control because of other factors involved in the game.

Lugo has been dominant holding batters to a .212 batting average, just two homers in 51.1 innings, has a ratio of nearly 3.5 strikeouts to every walk and is punching out 11 batters every nine innings. For the advanced metric fans, he also has a 2.81 fielding independent pitching (FIP) number which shows how well he has pitched when you don't include the poor Lake County defense. Those are all some dominating numbers.

Lugo came into the season ranked as the Indians 12th best prospect according to IndiansBaseballInsider.com and has certainly lived up to that lofty ranking thus far. Some would consider his season at short season Single-A Mahoning Valley last year when he went 1-5 with a 2.37 ERA in 14 starts as his breakout campaign, but this season looks to be his statement that he has arrived as a prospect.

"I just worked hard every day in the offseason," Lugo said about his improved performance this season. "I got up every morning, ate my breakfast, went to the field, trained and played catch. Then the next day repeat."

Lugo spent his time in the offseason in his home country of Venezuela not just to see his family after a long season stateside, but also to really hone in and work on his craft.

"I go back home and get to see my family, but the most important thing is I work," Lugo said.

That work seems to have paid off as Lugo is having his strongest season yet as a pro since signing as an international undrafted free agent in February 2011. Since signing, he has gotten stronger and continued to work on his delivery and his stuff. Everything is starting to come together well for him.

"My biggest strength right now is my fastball," Lugo noted. "I changed my mechanics a little bit and it has helped me get a little more life on the fastball. I try to get more swing-and-miss. I want to improve my body and my strength, that way I can improve all of my other stuff and my pitches and mechanics."

Lugo features a fastball that is now consistently sitting in the low 90s and has the arm strength to add more velocity to the top end as he continues to mature. His fastball jumps on hitters because of some deception in his delivery and the way he hides the ball. He throws a changeup and curveball, both of which have the chance to be very good major league offerings and give him a good three-pitch mix.

"They are good," Lugo said about his secondary offerings. "The changeup is working really well and my curveball is a lot better with my new mechanics. The changeup is my most confident pitch."

Lugo is also working on throwing more strikes in the zone, keeping the ball down and developing his starter's routine.

"You have to be focused on what you are doing," Lugo said. "I am working on improving my routines the day before I pitch or the day after. As a starter, you need to get ready for the game before it starts and then you have five days rest and get ready for the other game. It is a process."

Maybe the one thing that really shows Lugo's desire to have success on the mound is his commitment to learn English so he is able to better communicate with his teammates and live his everyday life in the United States.

"I never had an English course back home," Lugo said. "I was actually one of the worst English students in class in high school (laughs). One day my coach told me about this podcast on iTunes, so I downloaded it. It was called 'Ingles para todos,' which is "English for everyone." I liked it a lot and got really into it and listened to it every day and I think it helped me a lot. When I first got here I didn't want anyone to translate for me whether it was to buy food or buy whatever. I just spoke English. I don't want anybody to translate [for] me. I made a lot of mistakes and still do so, but I am still working to improve."

A lot of players from Latin America are intimidated with the prospects of learning English, but that was something that Lugo knew that he had to get a grasp on to help him along in his pro career and adapting to the American culture. The language barrier is something that can often leave a player feeling isolated.

"I think the most common reason why more don't learn English is they are afraid to make mistakes," Lugo said. "I really didn't care about it. I just started talking English."

Along with his English, Lugo's abilities on the mound are improving. And with that, he has solidified himself as one of the Indians' best prospects and someone every Indians fan should keep an eye on as he progresses up through the system.

"I think there are two levels, the minor leagues and the big leagues," Lugo said. "I am going to do whatever is going to take to make me better.