The A’s top pitching prospect, lefty Jesus Luzardo, just made his third start for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds on Saturday. The southpaw threw four scoreless innings before allowing a run in the fifth and exiting after throwing 72 pitches, 41 for strikes, in 4 2/3 frames. Luzardo has now given up 5 runs and struck out 17 in his first 13 innings at Triple-A. A’s Farm’s Nashville correspondent Bill Craig (@BC70CARDS) took the opportunity to catch up with Luzardo late last week in Nashville, and I thought I’d share that piece with all of you here this week. You can stay up to date on the A’s top prospects and all the daily action in the A’s minor league system on my Athletics Farm site, and you can get the latest on the A’s top prospect right here…
At the tender age of 20, lefty Jesus Luzardo is now considered by most sources to be the top prospect in the A’s minor league system, and he’s undoubtedly been the most impressive pitcher in the A’s system this season. The southpaw has notched 122 strikeouts in 101 2/3 innings and posted an ERA of 2.30 while making his way through three different levels of minor league ball.
The A’s front office had the foresight to acquire Luzardo, along with reliever Blake Treinen and infielder Sheldon Neuse, from the Nationals last summer in the Ryan Madson/Sean Doolittle deal. Although the trade may have come as a bit of a surprise to the young lefty, who was just beginning to make his way back from Tommy John surgery at the time of the deal, Luzardo is more than happy with the way things turned out.
”I’m glad that I got traded,” he said. “I’m really thankful to the A’s for trading for me and for how much they value me.”
Luzardo threw just 43 1/3 frames in the low minors last year while he slowly made his way back from the surgery. And, though he’s been on an innings limit this season – throwing just five innings in most of his starts – Luzardo says that he’s been feeling great all year.
”It’s a confidence booster being healthy and being pain free and going out every five days or six days. I’m confident I can let it go and not worry about what’s going to happen.”
Of course, he’s had a lot of help along the way, and Luzardo credits his family first for creating a strong foundation for him.
”My parents, from when I was growing up, and the way they brought me up so that my recovery issue never knocked me down. I’ve had so much help.
”My pitching coaches this year at High-A [Bryan Corey] and Double-A [Steve Connelly] really helped me learn how to pitch, my pitching coordinator [Gil Patterson] as well. I’ve had a lot of help this year at each step just learning little things here and there to help me get better.”
For a 20-year-old who graduated from high school just two years ago, Luzardo has exhibited a remarkable maturity on the mound. He pitches aggressively and rarely seems to get rattled.
”I just go out there and attack. I don’t really think too much about who I’m facing or what they’re doing, it’s more my own thing, and I just go out and command my pitches.”
But what’s Luzardo packing in his arsenal of pitches?
”Four-seam, two-seam, changeup and curveball. Right now, I’m just working on commanding all my pitches, reading hitters and executing every time I go out there.”
After looking so dominant all season, Luzardo already appears to be a pretty complete pitcher at this point in his young career. One has to wonder what’s left for him to work on.
”I think commanding my fastball, trying to use it enough but not over using it, and locating it where I want to when I want to.”
Luzardo started this season with High-A Stockton in the homer-happy California League. But after allowing a total of just two runs and striking out 25 over his first three starts, the lefty was promptly promoted from the Ports to Double-A Midland, where he compiled an ERA of 2.29 while striking out 9.8/9.
After an impressive few months at Double-A, Luzardo was promoted to Triple-A Nashville during the first week of August so that he could finally face more challenging competition. The southpaw threw five scoreless frames to earn the win in his first start for Nashville, but he allowed four runs in just 3 1/3 innings in his second start for the Sounds, and the young lefty has noticed the difference in hitters at the Triple-A level.
”Coming to Triple-A, there’s more veteran guys. They have more of a plan when they go up to hit. They kind of know what you’re throwing, your tendencies and what you’re looking to throw at certain times.”
Luzardo arrived in Nashville at an auspicious time, when the Sounds were in the early stages of their exciting 15-game winning streak.
”During that 15-game streak, the environment in the clubhouse was unreal. Everybody was happy and getting along. It’s still like that, even after. It’s a good feeling and an unbelievable thing.”
The Sounds aren’t the only team that’s been on a roll though. The team’s parent club, the A’s, have been the most exciting team in the league in the second half. And that excitement has trickled down to the Triple-A team as well.
”Yeah, we watch it in here all the time, and it’s good to watch! Those guys are having fun. It’s a lot of young guys and a lot of veterans. It’s a good group of guys up there – and down here. It’s exciting to see what happens!”
Of course, a young prospect can’t help but imagine what it might be like to be part of a pennant race at the major league level.
”Yes, it’s definitely a motivation that you want to keep going well and get even better. Seeing what they do every night is unbelievable. Everyone in here wants to be a part of that. It’s a driving force for that.”
The one sad note looming over Luzardo’s successful season is the tragic shooting that occurred in February at the school he graduated from just two years ago, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Luzardo still keeps in touch with many friends and acquaintances from the school, so it’s never too far from his thoughts.
”I still talk to three of the coaches there…then a bunch of the guys there on the team and my buddies from high school that I played baseball with. When I go back there, I live right next to the school, so I have a lot of communication with them.”
After turning in such an impressive performance and ascending to the Triple-A level, as well to the top of the team’s prospect list, in his age-20 season, a lot of people, both in the A’s front office and in the team’s fan base, are certainly looking forward to Luzardo’s eventual arrival at the major league level sometime in the very near future.
”I don’t know what the expectations are for me. I know my personal expectation is to go out there and pitch well every time. But I don’t know what the organization has planned for me.”
As for what he’s looking to accomplish in the final few weeks of the minor league season, Luzardo has a singular focus.
”I just want to go out there and put up zeroes and show what I can do.”
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