The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

August 16, 2012

Luebber helps develop young pitchers in Royals' organization

Woodbridge, Va. — It was more than an hour before game time as Steve Luebber, a minor league pitching coach in the Kansas City Royals’ farm system, stood on the left-field foul line near the bullpen of his visiting Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks.

The long-time Joplin resident and former major league pitcher had an extended conversation with Wilmington reliever Chase Boruff, 24, who the night before had allowed four runs without getting an out and saw his record fall to 1-8. At one point Luebber gently took the ball from Boruff and showed him a slow-motion version of a windup.

But about 30 minutes later Luebber’s attention turned to Overland Park, Kan., resident Jason Adam, 21, one of the top prospects in the Royals’ system and the starting pitcher for that day’s game against the host Potomac Nationals, a farm team of Washington.

That challenge of working with a pitcher trying to hang on to a pro career and another one who has his eye on getting to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City is a glimpse into the role of Luebber, 63, who has been the pitching coach of Wilmington of the high Class A Carolina League since 2007.

“The game situations are valuable to everyone, for all of the guys at every age group,” said Luebber, who has worked under four managers at Wilmington. “The biggest thing is the situations. The next thing is to individualize (instruction) with each guy. Even though there are commonalties, you have to do that because they are not all the same.”

Prior to this season Kansas City was rated the No. 3 farm system by Baseball America. The Royals were rated No. 1 prior to the 2011 season.

So what are the differences Luebber has seen from the Kansas City front office under general manager Dayton Moore?

“I think the commitment is the biggest thing,” Luebber said of the Royals. “Their plan is a long-range plan. They told us we are going to get younger every year as an organization. Our Triple A team is becoming (a roster) of our original sign players, which is almost unheard of. The commitment is more of a long-term, grind-it-out, stay-the-course (approach). With that you take some lumps in the process” at the big league level.

In games through Aug. 14 the Blue Rocks were 54-66 and had a team ERA of 3.90, the fourth-best mark in the eight-team league.

Wilmington pitcher Nick Graffeo, 24, was born in Independence, Mo., and grew up a fan of the Royals. Graffeo said each pitching coach has their area of emphasis and for Luebber that is scouting the opposition.

“He is big on us remembering the other hitters. I feel like that helps,” said Graffeo, a Raytown High grad and stepson of Kansas City hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. “Before each series we go over the lineup. He will quiz us on opposing hitters. He keeps us on our toes.”

The Wilmington manager is Vance Wilson, a former big league catcher with the Mets and Tigers from 1999 to 2006. What does Luebber bring to the table?

“Just the experience that he brings; he has been there, at all levels,” Wilson said. “His approach is very simple. Lubs has that memory.”

These days a pitch limit is a major topic in pro baseball as the decision by the Washington Nationals to shut down starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg at some point has drawn national discussion. Luebber said at the Class A level, the Royals rarely have a starting pitcher throw more than 100 pitches in a game.

Luebber was born in Clinton on July 9, 1949, and graduated from Joplin High. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 13th round in 1967 and made his big league debut for the Twins on June 27, 1971. He pitched for the Twins in 1971, 1972 and 1976 and was with the Blue Jays in 1979 and the Orioles in 1981. His last big league game was Sept. 29, 1981 with Baltimore, and he had a career mark of 6-10 with an ERA of 4.62.

Since his playing days, he has been a coach in the farm systems of San Diego, Baltimore, Texas and Miami before joining the Royals for the 2006 season as the pitching coach with the Burlington (N.C.) Bees in the short-season Appalachian League.

“It was something I always thought would be the right fit and it came about,” he said. “I had some friends of mine who were with Kansas City. They talked to the pitching coordinator at the time (Mike Mason) and told him I would be a good fit.”

Mason is now in the Cubs’ system as the pitching coach for Class AAA Iowa.

Luebber has three grown children who live in Texas, Oklahoma and California. So how long would he like to coach?

“I still enjoying doing it and I still have a passion for it,” he said. “It keeps you fresh, dealing with a new generation of kids. That is what I like. My immediate thing is for our big league team to have that breakthrough. That will be rewarding.”

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