Not a Rookie: Luke Gregerson
By reader request, here is a look at the career development path of Padres reliever Luke Gregerson.
Gregerson was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 28th round in 2006, out of St. Xavier University in Illinois, an NAIA school where he had a successful career as a closer/outfielder. This was a nice bit of Midwest/small college scouting by St. Louis; he was not well-known before the draft, not showing up on the 30-player deep Baseball America Illinois list for example. The Cardinals made him a full-time closer, due to his 88-92 MPH sinker and unhittable slider. He responded with nine saves between Johnson City in the Appy League and State College in the New York-Penn League, with a 46/15 K/BB and a 2.81 ERA in 32 combined innings. I did not put him in the 2007 book, but he'd rate as a Grade C prospect as a 22-year-old college senior closing at the lowest levels, albeit an interesting example of the type.
Moved up to High-A Palm Beach for 2007, Gregerson posted a 1.97 ERA with a 69/20 K/BB in 64 innings, just 42 hits allowed, and 29 saves. He made one appearance in Double-A at the end of the year, throwing a single shutout inning and fanning the side. Scouting reports continued to mention average velocity, but an excellent breaking ball and good control. Many similar pitchers tear up the lower levels but have problems in Double-A, so one game aside, it was unclear how Gregerson would perform. I gave him a Grade C, but noted that "if he continues to put up numbers like this, he will emerge as a middle relief candidate quickly."
Gregerson spent all of '08 with Double-A Springfield, picking up 10 more saves with a 3.35 ERA and a 78/26 K/BB in 75 innings,62 hits allowed. This was very solid though not superoutstanding performance. I gave him another Grade C, again pointing out that Gregerson could be an effective middle reliever as long as he continued to show good command of his sharp slider and decent sinker.
Gregerson was traded to the Padres, and got a full shot in their bullpen last year, with a 3.24 ERA and a 93/31 K/BB in 75 innings, 62 hits allowed, providing strong middle relief at the bargain rookie price. Interestingly, his K/IP ratio last year was the best it had been since rookie ball, and almost a full 2-K/9 over what he had done in Double-A. He's been even better this year, with a 1.57 ERA and a stunning 32/2 K/BB in 29 innings, with only 11 hits allowed.
I started working on this article last night, but Fangraphs posted this excellent piece this morning on Gregerson, focusing on his outstanding slider. I agree with Joe Pawlikowski's conclusions: there is some injury risk due to Gregerson's extensive use of the slider, but it's such a nasty pitch that he should remain effective as long as his arm is up to it.
Overall, this was a good bit of drafting and development by the Cardinals, and a nice trade acquisition by the Padres. Gregerson is another example of how you can find solid bullpen help without spending huge amounts of money. I wouldn't be afraid to use him as a closer.