A look at the unheralded pitcher leading the Eastern League in ERA

He saw 720 players taken ahead of him in the First-Year Player Draft and he’s never been on anyone’s top prospects list. But there is one list where he ranks No. 1 right now. He is the league leader in ERA in the prospect-laden Double-A Eastern League for the Bowie Baysox.

A 24-year-old right-hander taken by the Orioles in round 24 in 2014, Lucas Long has had one impressive season for Bowie. He is 5-3 with a 2.10 ERA. Over 73 innings, he has given up 61 hits and just two home runs, with 16 walks to 65 strikeouts and a .225 batting average against.

“It’s been a lot of fun this year,” Long said during a recent interview at Prince George’s Stadium. “We have a great team and it’s not possible without the defense we have, the catchers we have. My catch partner, Bobby Bundy, has been great for me, too. I hope to just keep on building on it.

“My strength is an arm-side fastball that I can sink pretty well. If I can pound guys on that side of the plate - into righties and away from a lefty - if those guys are pounding the ball into the ground, I know my stuff is working that day.

“I’m predominantly a fastball pitcher. But I also have a little cutter, a changeup and I have a curveball. You kind of read swings and rely on your catchers to read swings for you. When I am on, I can command those pitches for strikes to keep hitters off-balance. That is the name of the game. The fastball command, that is where it starts, and when I am going well, that is where it starts right there.”

Lucas Long Bowie white throw sidebar.jpgLong has put up these strong numbers while pitching in a variety of roles. He has made four starts with an ERA of 2.45 and 17 relief appearances with an ERA of 1.70. He has even saved five games.

“Through spring training, I was building up as a starter,” he said. “Once I got here to Bowie, they said I would come out of the bullpen as long relief. That is how it started. Since then, I’ve had one-inning roles and seven-inning roles. Keeps me on my toes every day.

“You try to keep everything the same. It’s one pitch at a time, whether it’s one inning or seven innings. In one inning, you can still get beat if you get a fastball up or hang a curveball. It’s still baseball, still pitching and still a challenge.”

He’s been meeting those challenges and there are plans in place now to move Long back into the Bowie starting rotation after the All-Star break. He has certainly pitched well enough to join that rotation.

Born in Minneapolis, Minn., Long pitched at three different colleges before the Orioles drafted him. He has shown some solid secondary pitches this season to go along with his fastball, although he doesn’t seem to favor one over the others.

“It kind of depends on the day, you know? Some days one is working better than the others and some days you have a feel for all of them,” he said. “Those are the fun days. You feel like you can do no wrong. The ball leaves your hand and goes right where you want it.”

Long has certainly had a few of those days during what has been his best season as a pro. Not bad for a player that has mostly been an overlooked 24th-round draft pick by prospect analysts. Has it been motivation for Long to be thriving as a 24th-rounder?

“I mean it always adds a little chip on your shoulder,” Long said. “But after the first full season, the round really doesn’t matter as much. You kind of see once you get to Double-A - if you’re here, you can play. The jump to Double-A is the big steppingstone that everyone says. It is nice to have a high round attached your name, but no one has told me that, as a 24th-rounder, that I can’t make it to the big leagues. I’ve got the opportunity and I’m thankful for the chance. Hope my name is called someday.”

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