Kyle Luigs was fortunate to be here, a varsity pitcher from Richmond Hill helping the Savannah Bananas fill their roster in 2018 when recruited players were unavailable.
“The first summer he came in he was a temporary player. We didn’t know how long he was going to stay,” said Tyler Gillum, whose first season as head coach of the baseball team. the summer college league was held in 2018.
Four years later, the two of them are still here, and Gillum and the Bananas are the ones who feel lucky to have Luigs – nicknamed “Lugs” – on the list.
“Every season he gets better,” said Gillum. “He really progressed from being a little bullpen player in 2018 to be one of our top pitchers in 2021.”
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander is one of the best pitchers in the Coastal Plain League as the Bananas started out fast and didn’t slow down. Savannah (22-3) won the West Division first half title at 19-3 to win a first-round home playoff game on August 1.
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Luigs (4-1) is tied for the league lead with five starts, tied for second in strikeouts (38) behind teammate Joe Miller (40), tied for second in wins and seventh in MPM (2.05). He allowed six earned runs, 14 hits and 10 walks in 26.1 innings pitched.
It’s a much bigger impact in a much bigger role that Luigs had his first three summer prom seasons. Gillum recalled that he used the University of North Georgia right-hander exclusively as a reliever in 2018, for one or two innings at a time.
“Nothing too crazy,” said Gillum. “He was like an average guy out of the pen. The next summer he improved a bit, it was better, the off-speed step was better. His control was better. It was a bigger piece of the game. enclosure but still a piece of enclosure. Then last summer during COVID he really took the biggest leap I’ve seen. “
The Bananas played a non-league schedule during the pandemic in 2020, but they did play, facing teams in a compressed season from July to August. Luigs increased his innings to three to five per appearance.
After Luigs graduated from UNG in Exercise Science last fall and transferred to Jacksonville, Alabama as a graduate student in Sports Marketing, he completed his senior year. for college eligibility this spring. He made 18 appearances for the Gamecocks, including four as a starter, and posted a 3-1 record and a 3.73 ERA.
“I think the great thing I was able to do during the summers that I struggled to transfer to school was not to think too much or take the game too seriously,” said Luigs, 23 years old.
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Being in a pitcher’s routine, he said, allows everyone to linger on the last outing or focus on the next, or work on the mechanics of the pitcher’s arms and legs. There is so much thinking and not so much play.
“I think being here during the summer versus school has allowed me to pitch more relaxed,” Luigs said. “Throwing at home, especially here at Grayson with so much going on during the game, doesn’t give me time to think. “
Instead, he’s in the moment, focusing on the one-on-one battle with the batter and the playing situation rather than how he throws the ball.
Gillum and pitching coach Corey Pye put Luigs in a starting role, and he responded by showing greater mastery of his fastball and breaking ball. With that confidence, he pitched on hitters and in the hitting zone more often.
“Those are two of the big things that I think he hasn’t done very well in the past,” said Gillum. “He’s more ordering the Breaking Ball for what he wants to do now. I feel like in 2018 the Breaking Ball was a bit buckled and didn’t have as much bite, and he doesn’t. didn’t throw that much for strikes. Now he’s commanding a lot better, and he’s throwing and rising now. That’s really the command and being able to make those shots when he needs to and execute. He doesn’t. been late on a lot of counts, and it was a big part of his success.
Luigs is a shining example of a pitching staff following the strategy of getting ahead of the scores, winning battles 1-1 and 2-2 before favoring the batters.
“When you do that, you stay out of the batting count,” said Gillum. “It’s a big foundation of what we do. We try to take what these guys’ strengths are already and build on their strengths and launch what they want to launch with conviction.”
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Leading the league
It may seem fundamental to stress pitchers to throw strikes, line up position, and maintain baserunners, but the Bananas’ ability to execute consistently resulted in fewer runs allowed and, as a result, more wins.
Until July 3, Savannah leads the CPL in the pitching categories of teams with most wins, least losses, ERA (2.23), few earned runs (53), few hitters (15), most strikeouts (296), most shutouts (seven) and opponent’s lowest batting average (.201).
Gillum thought the pitching staff would be “good enough”, but so many players exceeded his expectations. The head coach is informed by stats and ratings from other coaches, but he doesn’t really know new players until they throw for him.
There have been contributions from all staff, including veteran Bananas Luigs and Kennesaw State southpaw Ryan Kennedy (3-0), who started the franchise’s lone hitter earlier this season. Gillum said left-hander Miller (3-0 record; 2.19 ERA), a junior at Penn, chose to play in Savannah over the Cape Cod League. From right-handed Nathan Dettmer (5-0) of Texas A&M and Jakob Barker (93 mph slider) of Valdosta State, to left-handed Andrew Armstrong of Florida State and 7-foot Jared Beck of St. Leo, they come in a variety of sizes and sizes. styles, with different strengths.
But they came together, and quickly.
“Usually it takes about a month for a lot of things to happen,” Pye said. “I felt like this year it took a couple of days for things to kick in with everyone.”
Luigs said it was testament to Pye, who entered as a pitching coach in the middle of the 2018 season and was part of a veteran staff with a continuity unusual for a summer league team.
“(Pye) does a great job leading everyone, getting everyone to join, in such a short time as a group,” Luigs said. “I think we are a very close-knit group this summer, like every summer before.
“I think everyone expects and demands the best from the guy on the mound that night.”
“Brothers” Kyle and Bill
Collecting and leading a pitching squad every summer starts with Gillum and Pye, but the call for pitching on the field goes through the receivers, and for Luigs that means Bill LeRoy. It’s almost impossible to talk about one without the other, as they’ve bonded as teammates in North Georgia and now four seasons in Savannah – a likely record for a player with a summer ball team, a noted Gillum.
“I call him my brother at this point,” Luigs said of LeRoy, who has stayed with the Luigs family in Richmond Hill every season.
When asked if his parents loved LeRoy more than him, Luigs replied, “It’s towing the line. It’s getting very close. On the other side, I think sometimes his parents love me. more than they like it. We compromise. It’s a really cool relationship. “
He believes LeRoy has caught most of the home games at Grayson Stadum, where players need to be able to “flip the switch,” as they call it, from baseball to entertainment responsibilities, pre-game to. game through the post-game.
“If Bill is healthy, he catches up to the home game because he really thrives in that environment,” Luigs said. “I think he does a great job getting the most out of our pitchers, keeping the energy at a good level here in Savannah, where the energy is always high, and not allowing the pitchers to go up too much. high or too low. “
Luigs would agree that he also feeds on the crowd – home games now sell for over 4,100 as pandemic protocols have been relaxed.
“I think everyone who knows me as a pitcher, any of my coaches I’ve had in the past, they know I’m a pretty balanced guy, I don’t really do too much of a roller coaster.” said Luigs, who credits his coaches at Richmond Hill High School, college and with the Bananas as well as former big league pitcher and pitcher coach Paul Menhart of Richmond Hill. “A lot of people say that really makes you a good pitcher.”
Pye will say that Luigs is a very intelligent pitcher and that he would one day make a good pitcher’s coach – which is actually one of Luigs’ goals if a career as a professional baseball player didn’t come true. He has garnered interest from a pair of independent league teams, but with the MLB amateur draft scheduled for July 11-13, the 23-year-old ineligible for college admits he didn’t. no other way but to pitch the best baseball of his life this summer. .
“He’s studying other pitchers,” Pye said. “If he’s not throwing, he sometimes sits next to me during the game and points out things to me that he’s seeing. He’s been doing it in the past two years, probably more than the first two. I think he’s the one who grows and matures. “
Luigs has improved as a pitcher and he said he’s changed a lot as a person in four years. When he joined the Bananas in 2018, Luigs now says he was “quite calm and shy, quite reserved”. Some veteran players have shown him the Bananas way.
“I had a lot of guys who helped me get out of my comfort zone and out of my shell early,” Luigs said. “I think it has helped me tremendously off the field. Being comfortable talking to groups of people and dancing… not really taking yourself too seriously all the time and being able to relax and to have fun as well as the others. “
Nathan Dominitz is the sports content editor for Savannah Morning News and savannahnow.com. Email him at [email protected] Twitter: @NathanDominitz
On the Web
For a photo gallery of pitcher Kyle Luigs and the Savannah Bananas, check out this article as savannahnow.com.