Lauer Impressing Padres With Polished Approach

PASCO, Wash.—Nearly throwing a perfect game for Kent State this season was a big deal. Getting drafted in the first round and signing with the Padres for a $2 million bonus was also a big deal.

But for Eric Lauer, from Grafton, Ohio, getting out of the scorching heat of the Arizona League with his promotion to the cooler climates of Northwest League was a very big deal.

“That was ridiculous, you don’t want to be there too long,” Lauer said after his debut for the short-season Tri-City, where he threw three scoreless innings. “I wasn’t out there thinking of water constantly and it is definitely a lot more fun to play in front of fans in a stadium.”

This season, the lefthander recorded an 0.69 ERA in 104 innings for the Golden Flashes, the lowest of any Division I starter since 1979 when St. John’s pitcher Chris Rich had an 0.62 ERA.

“It was the first time I saw him and I was impressed,” said Dust Devils manager Ben Fritz, a first-round pick of the Athletics in 2002 as a righthander out of Fresno State.

“The first thought that comes to mind is pitchability, it looks easy for him. He gets on hitters, I don’t know what the gun says, but the ball is harder than it looks.”

At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Lauer—who was twice an all-state selection at wide receiver and still holds all of Midview High’s reception records—relies on an easy athleticism and spotless mechanics to locate a low-90s, four-seam fastball to all quadrants. Although he was drafted in the 17th round out of high school by the Blue Jays, he elected to go to college.

“For me, it was more if I was mentally ready,” Lauer said. “Was I willing to go through the grind and compete with guys in their twenties for a job? I just didn’t think I was there yet, mentally or physically.

“Getting a degree now and not having to do it later in life made sense to me and I also thought if did it this way, I might spend a little less time in the minors.”

Originally committed to Kentucky, Lauer de-committed after listening to pro scouts rave about Kent State’s pitching coach, former big leaguer Mike Birkbeck. He chose Kent State because he we wanted to learn from a knowledgeable pitching coach rather than attend a bigger school.

“When I first went to Kent State, I didn’t even throw a slider and now it’s my second best pitch,” he said. “But what I improved on most is my fastball command. As a pitcher you need to use all of the plate.”

Lauer throws a fastball, curve, slider and changeup, but his ability to command the fastball and his slider has given him his success and his draft position.

“A well-located fastball is my go-to pitch,” Lauer said. “If you can move a fastball around you keep hitters off-balance. I would rather do that than throw off-speed.”

In his three-year collegiate career, Lauer was 23-10, 1.87 with 292 strikeouts in 270 innings and 90 walks. While his statistics are impressive, the Padres were more impressed with what the numbers didn’t show.

“Eric was in my region when I was an area scout for the Padres,” scouting director Mark Conner said. “I got to know him and his family pretty well, so we have quite a history with him. In high school, he always had extreme confidence in his abilities, even though he is a very quiet and humble person.

“The numbers are what they are, but he is very physically gifted and has as easy a delivery as you will find from anyone in the draft. Throw in the fact that his makeup is off the charts and we were fortunate that we got him where we did.”

So far in his brief professional career, the 21-year-old lefthander has yet to allow a run for the Dust Devils—allowing just eight hits in 13 innings with 17 strikeouts—although he did allow two earned runs in four innings on the sun-baked fields of the AZL.

“He’s really been impressive,” Tri-City play-by-play man Chris King said. “The best comment I’ve heard is that when the catcher sticks out his glove, Eric can put it right there; and so far that has been true.”

“He hasn’t allowed a run, but has been in some tight spots and each time; he’s been very poised and gotten out of the jam.”

Because he threw 104 innings with Kent State, San Diego limited him to 40 pitches on his opening night and will have him on a strict pitch count for the remainder of the minor league season. The organization’s plan is to go slow, as they are doing with fellow first-round pitcher Cal Quantrill, the eighth overall selection in the draft.

While some would be surprised if a polished college pitcher was not dominant in the lower minors, others believe the best is yet to come.

“For guys that know how to pitch, when they face better hitters it can become easier,” said Fritz, who pitched seven years in the minors.

“The plans and approaches are more mature so you know when you go outer-third on that first pitch, you have strike one. He’s also going to have better scouting reports, so he will know where to find the strikes. The key for him will to not be to expand the zone to get hitters out.”

John Conniff is a contributor to FoxSportsSan Diego and you can follow him

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