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Views from Arizona: Mengden, Manaea, Luzardo, and other pitchers

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My analysis from a weekend of Cactus League baseball begins with a look at of some of Oakland’s brightest young hurlers.

Jesus Luzardo throws a warm-up pitch prior to his 3/18 spring training start.

For those of you on the fence about it - come to spring training. Seriously. Whether you’re kicking it on the lawn with a mustache pretzel or sitting behind home plate listening to A’s assistant general manager and director of player personnel Billy Owens talking baseball with scouts, there’s something to love for everyone. The price is right, and you get to experience A’s baseball in an intimate way that you simply cannot at the Coliseum. Plus, you get to say hi to me - a win-win!

While I spent the first couple weeks of the spring taking care of schoolwork and trying to find my bearings in the Cactus League, this weekend I was able to sit down and take in all three home games at Hohokam Park. Today we’ll start with some of the pitchers that caught my eye, and tomorrow we’ll take on the hitters. I’ll begin with Friday afternoon’s starter.

Daniel Mengden

While Hohokam Stadium does not have a radar gun, there are always at least a few scouts sitting in the stands behind home plate tracking pitches, and it’s easy enough to read off of their radar guns. On Friday Mengden’s fastball was sitting at 93 MPH very consistently, even as he pitched into the sixth inning. His velocity did dip slightly to about 91 MPH when pitching out of the stretch, signaling that Mengden still hasn’t quite fixed his struggles when pitching without his full wind-up.

The Indians’ lineup on Friday was far from their best possible, but even so the only hitter to make consistently hard contact off of Mengden was leadoff hitter Bradley Zimmer, who started the game with a home run off of what looked like a hanging changeup. Mengden’s primary offspeed for the day was his slider (83-85 MPH) and he made hitters look silly with a few slow curves (70-71 MPH).

Mengden was impressive, looking much better that his previous spring outings. However, until he learns to pitch out of the stretch, I believe Mengden will be very inconsistent. He has the talent to shut down a lineup like he did against the Phillies last September, but he also remains incredibly susceptible to gascan outings like he showed in the first half of 2017. He’ll likely open the season as Oakland’s number three starter, but some games he will look like an ace, while others he will look like he barely belongs in Triple-A. I’d expect it to even out at an ERA somewhere in the high 3’s/low 4’s by season’s end.

Sean Manaea

Manaea got the start on Saturday and I was instantly concerned. When he was flying through the A’s minor league system, he was lighting up the radar gun, touching the upper 90s with his fastball. In 2016 his fastball averaged 93.3 MPH, while in 2017 it dropped to 92.2 MPH (per BrooksBaseball). On Saturday, I didn’t see him throw a fastball over 91 MPH. His fastball ranged from 88-91 MPH, while his changeup sat 81-82 MPH. He only threw a few sliders - also interesting, as the pitch was his best secondary in the minor leagues, but since making it to the majors he has thrown it less in favor of his changeup.

Manaea looked decent against a weak Mariners split squad lineup. His command was spotty, but it was his first time working with new catcher Jonathan Lucroy and home plate umpire Roberto Ortiz had a tight strike zone for both sides. Overall, Manaea spotted his fastball well. He did give up two hard hit balls to a lefty (first baseman Mike Ford), but this was likely just random and nothing to worry about.

Manaea’s velocity drop should not be a huge red flag...yet. There was no reason for him to give max effort in a meaningless spring training game, and he is still getting back into action after a slight delay due to back issues. I’m not too worried yet, but I will definitely be keeping a close eye on his velocity numbers in April. He is still clearly Oakland’s second best starter, and isn’t far from being number one.

Jesus Luzardo

This one was fun. Jharel Cotton’s unfortunate injury opened the door for “Jesus Lizard” to be called from minor league camp for a spot start on Sunday, and boy, did he impress. His fastball sat comfortably in the 92-94 MPH range, touching 97 MPH once or twice. His curveball (78 MPH) was filthy, and his changeup (82 MPH) was an impressive third pitch. He also mixed in a cutter from time to time.

What impressed me the most about Luzardo was his smooth, repeatable delivery, clearly advanced for a 20 year-old, especially one hitting the upper 90’s. The White Sox lineup he faced lacked sluggers Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia, but regardless, Luzardo looked fantastic as he worked through the lineup with clear confidence. Sure, it was only spring training, but he looked like he belonged.

I’ve been concerned about the hype Luzardo has received from prospect outlets this offseason, seeing as the 20 year-old has only thrown 43.1 innings as a professional, all below the Single-A level. However, having seen him, I understand the hype - it’s more than warranted. While top farmhand A.J. Puk definitely has the higher ceiling of the two, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if, when all is said and done, Luzardo turns in the better and more successful Major League career.

Shaky video I took of Luzardo below:

Others of note

  • Blake Treinen struggled quite a bit on Friday, unable to find the strike zone or miss any bats. I am still high on him and won’t let one outing change that, but don’t forget that he struggled mightily in the closer’s role in Washington last season - he isn’t as much of a lock as some might suggest.
  • Ryan Buchter took the loss on Saturday, but he wasn’t awful. He definitely got squeezed on a few calls, and his frustration showed. The bases-clearing triple he gave up was likely an out in any other situation - center fielder B.J. Boyd was playing incredibly shallow to try and cut down the go-ahead run at the plate.
  • Chris Hatcher impressed me, giving up only one hit between his two outings on Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday he looked untouchable, and did not show the erratic control that has plagued him for his entire career thus far. Don’t write him off quite yet.

The starting rotation is the biggest question mark for the 2018 Oakland Athletics, and likely the main obstacle between the team and contention for at least a Wild Card spot. Hopefully Manaea and Mengden will be able to solidify two spots for now, and those two, along with Luzardo, will be huge factors for the team for years to come.

Poll

Which starter’s growth are you more excited to see in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Daniel Mengden
    (110 votes)
  • 20%
    Sean Manaea
    (96 votes)
  • 52%
    Jesus Luzardo
    (247 votes)
  • 3%
    Other
    (17 votes)
470 votes total Vote Now