With the end of the minor league season just about a week away, it seems like a good time to take a look at some of the young hurlers in the A’s system who’ve been having true standout seasons on the field this year. Many minor league players can dazzle with an amazing week, or even an amazing month, but being able to perform at a high level over the course of an often grueling minor league season, where travel can be torturous and days off are rare, is another thing altogether. So, let’s take a quick look at some of the top-performing pitchers in the A’s system this year. For the purposes of this piece, we’re only examining hurlers who’ve thrown over 100 innings this season, and all statistics are complete through games of Sunday, August 26. And remember, we’re not ranking top prospects here, just taking a look at some of the top performers on the field. 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 a look at the A’s top-performing minor league pitchers right here…
LHP Jesus Luzardo
Midland RockHounds (AA) / Nashville Sounds (AAA) / Stockton Ports (A+)
(109 1/3 IP / 89 H / 35 ER / 30 BB / 129 K / 2.88 ERA / 1.09 WHIP)
Since being acquired from Washington last summer along with closer Blake Treinen and minor league infielder Sheldon Neuse in the Ryan Madson/Sean Doolittle deal, Luzardo has quickly climbed to the top of the A’s prospect list. The young lefty was just beginning to make his way back from Tommy John surgery at the time of the deal and only threw a total of 43 1/3 frames in the low minors last year. The A’s have been cautious with the 20-year-old this season, placing an innings limit on him that’s had him throwing just five innings in most of his starts. After allowing just two runs and striking out 25 over his first three starts for Stockton this season, Luzardo was promoted from the Ports to Double-A Midland, where he compiled an ERA of 2.29 while striking out 9.8/9 over 16 starts. Then, in the first week of August, the southpaw was promoted to Triple-A Nashville, where he’s finally faced more challenging competition. Luzardo 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. He then gave up one run and struck out six over 4 2/3 frames in his third start, but he suffered his worst outing of the season, surrendering 8 runs in just 3 innings of work in his last start for the Sounds on Friday. The lefty throws a two-seam and a four-seam fastball, a changeup and a curve. He commands them all fairly well and exhibits a maturity beyond his years on the mound. Luzardo’s likely to pick up where he left off in Triple-A next season and, if all goes as expected, he should be getting the chance to show what he can do for Oakland by sometime next summer.
RHP Parker Dunshee
Midland RockHounds (AA) / Stockton Ports (A+)
(143 2/3 IP / 114 H / 39 ER / 30 BB / 157 K / 2.44 ERA / 1.00 WHIP)
Since being taken by the A’s in the 7th round of last year’s draft, Dunshee has done nothing but impress, compiling a 2.05 ERA in 36 games since joining the A’s system. The righty made a great first impression when he failed to allow a run in 38 1/3 frames for Vermont last season. Dunshee started this season with Stockton, where he notched 82 strikeouts in 70 innings of work while posting a 2.70 ERA for the Ports. The 23-year-old has been even better since his promotion to Double-A Midland in June, putting up an ERA of 2.20 while issuing just 13 walks over 73 2/3 innings for the RockHounds. Dunshee leads all A’s minor leaguers with 157 strikeouts this season, and he’s consistently demonstrated excellent control, compiling a 5.4/1 K/BB ratio over his minor league career. Equally impressive, he’s allowed just 13 home runs over 184 minor league innings. Dunshee has the ability to really command his fastball, has a solid breaking ball and isn’t at all afraid to throw strikes. He should join Luzardo in next year’s Triple-A rotation, where he’ll be just one step away from showing what he can do for the A’s.
RHP Brian Howard
Stockton Ports (A+) / Midland RockHounds (AA)
(127 1/3 IP / 107 H / 42 ER / 33 BB / 129 K / 2.97 ERA / 1.10 WHIP)
Selected just after Dunshee with the A’s 8th-round pick in last year’s draft, Howard and Dunshee have formed an impressive tandem as they’ve quickly made their way through the A’s system. The 6-foot-9 righty compiled a 1.15 ERA in 31 1/3 frames for Vermont in his debut season last year. He then got off to a great start this season with Stockton, striking out 77 and walking just 14 over 72 innings of work while posting an impressive 2.38 ERA in the hitter-friendly California League. In June, the 23-year-old was promoted to Double-A Midland, where he’s notched 52 strikeouts in 55 1/3 frames while putting up a 3.74 ERA for the RockHounds. Like Dunshee, Howard has consistently demonstrated excellent control, compiling a 4.6/1 K/BB ratio while averaging a strikeout per inning over his minor league career. And also like Dunshee, he has the ability to command his fastball, has a solid breaking ball and isn’t afraid to throw strikes. Look for Howard to join Luzardo and Dunshee in next year’s Triple-A rotation, where the trio will form the next crop of promising pitching prospects poised to pitch their way into the big league rotation, most likely sooner rather than later.
Honorable Mention: RHP Mitchell Jordan, RHP Wyatt Marks, RHP Matt Milburn
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