Seven months ago I wrote an article about Oakland top prospects Jesús Luzardo and A.J. Puk, who entered the season ranked No. 1 and No. 4 as baseball’s top left-handed pitching prospects. To briefly summarize that article, I discussed how both would likely see limited action this season, however could still make an impact down the stretch and would hold lots of promise for the 2020 season.
That certainly has proven true so far, as Luzardo and Puk flashed electric arms that helped the Athletics to a Wild Card appearance. While Puk did not pitch in the game, the 22-year-old Luzardo got his first taste of postseason baseball in front of 54,005 fans at the Coliseum, tossing three shutout frames in relief with four strikeouts in Oakland’s 5-1 season-ending loss to the Rays.
While social media allows fans from all over to witness highlights of Luzardo, many were likely getting their first look at him during the Wild Card game, and were treated to quite the show. The rookie southpaw worked efficiently, yielding a hit and a pair of walks while throwing 46 pitches to complete the three innings.
For A’s fans, and those who followed Luzardo through his first month in the majors, they’ve been treated to this since he was called up on September 9, becoming the first Peruvian born player in major league history. While the A’s intend on using him as a starter in the future, they held him to a relief role this season, as Luzardo tossed 12 innings across six appearances, yielding two runs, five hits, three walks and a homer with 16 strikeouts. While a small sample size, it was strong and efficient work from the young lefty, who limited base runners while fooling hitters with a dirty curveball and changeup, as well as an upper-90’s fastball with excellent command.
While Luzardo has been impressive, and received his chance to showcase it in the postseason, let’s not forget about A.J. Puk. Puk, who was ranked the No. 4 LHP prospect in baseball at the beginning of this season, was called up on August 20, and like Luzardo, made only relief appearances despite Oakland’s plan to use him as a starter in the near future. Across 10 outings and 11.1 IP, Puk went 2-0 while allowing four runs, 10 hits, five walks and a homer with 13 strikeouts. Puk had some struggles with commanding the strike zone and allowed a partially elevated rate of hard contact at 41.4%, but overall pitched well and displayed a nasty slider to go along with his upper-90’s fastball.
Luzardo and Puk have several things in common, including the fact that both of their big league debuts were delayed by injuries. Both have undergone Tommy John Surgery; Luzardo in high school and Puk in March 2018. Luzardo also started this season on the injured list in the minors due to a shoulder strain, then was shelved again later in the year due to a hamstring strain, which kept him in the minors for all but one month of the season when the A’s had expected him to debut in April or May entering the season. For Puk, he looked sharp in 2018 Spring Training and was making a run at the Opening Day starting rotation, then underwent surgery and saw his major league debut delayed by nearly two full seasons.
Despite the A’s winning 97 games in two consecutive campaigns, they’ve entered both seasons with unstable pitching staffs that have been revived by the bullpen and trade deadline acquisitions. Next season, however, they’ll be coming into Spring Training with a solid pack of experienced starters, including Frankie Montas, Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt. In addition to any offseason moves they make to bolster the staff, Oakland will have a pair of young lefties fighting for a spot in the rotation; Luzardo and Puk. After strong performances from each in just 23.1 combined innings, both showed off electric arms throughout their small time in the majors and will look to put together strong springs in order to earn a spot in the rotation. Both are most definitely capable of it, and will look to translate their success as top prospects to the big league level and help the A’s get back to the postseason for their third straight season, and finally get past the Wild Card game that’s haunted them over the last two years.
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