According to MLB.com, the Oakland Athletics have two of the top-four left-handed pitching prospects in all of baseball. We could see both of them in the Majors as soon as next season.
Jesus Luzardo, ranked the No. 1 LHP prospect, and A.J. Puk, ranked No. 4, are reportedly on track to appear on the A’s Major League club at some point during the 2019 season. Luzardo, the 21-year-old southpaw from Peru, was acquired by the A’s in 2017 as part of a deal that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Nationals in exchange for Luzardo, Sheldon Neuse (ranked A’s No. 10 prospect), and Blake Treinen.
Luzardo has flown through the Minor Leagues, reaching AAA at the end of last season after beginning his career the year before. Over 12 games (11 starts) in 2017, he posted a 1.66 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 47.0 GB%, 10.0 K/9, 2.53 FIP and 0.4 HR/9. He then made 23 starts between A+, AA and AAA in 2018, tallying a 10-5 record, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 2.96 FIP, 10.6 K/9, 49.9 GB% and 0.6 HR/9. Four of those starts came at the AAA level, as he struggled to a 7.31 ERA and 2.00 WHIP over just 16 innings; a small sample size. While this clearly wasn’t ideal, it’s difficult for a 21-year-old pitcher to find success at such a high level, and with his struggles, he gained experience that he wouldn’t have gained if he had stayed in AA for the rest of the year. Luzardo dominated through A and AA, and it’s likely that he’ll do the same when starting the 2019 season in AAA.
While Jesus Luzardo is Oakland’s headliner, we can’t forget about A.J. Puk. The A’s selected the 6’7″, 220-pound left-hander in the first round of the 2016 draft, and were prepared to plug him into the rotation last season before Puk underwent Tommy John Surgery. It was originally reported that he could’ve missed both the 2018 and 2019 seasons, but recent reports have indicated that he’s making tremendous progress and could very likely be brought up to pitch for the A’s in the later part of next season.
Puk started at the A- level in 2016, making ten starts and posting a 3.03 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 47.4 GB%, 1.93 FIP, 11.02 K/9, and did not allow a home run over 32.2 IP. He wasn’t as dominant the next season though, pitching to a 4.06 ERA and 1.25 WHIP across 27 games (24 starts) at the A+ and AA levels. However, his strikeout rate rose to 13.2 K/9, and he allowed just three homers over 27 games. Puk has posted strong FIPs of 1.93 and 2.40 over his first two seasons, which indicates that he’s been much better than his ERA shows. When you put together his strong FIP, GB%, HR/9 and K/9, Puk’s ERA should be nowhere near 4.06, like it was in 2017. These numbers are the reason he’s ranked the No. 4 left-handed pitching prospect in baseball, and he appears to have a bright future ahead of him.
Coming off of Tommy John Surgery, and reportedly making very strong progress, it’s definitely a possibility that we see Puk on a Major League mound next season. If Jesus Luzardo can stay injury-free, the Oakland Athletics could have their top-two prospects on their pitching staff as they look to make another postseason appearance in 2019.
Photo Source: USA Today