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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Jesus Luzardo moving up to Triple-A

Meanwhile, Luis Barrera lights up Double-A.

Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s top prospect is moving up to the highest level of the minors. Pitching phenom Jesus Luzardo will make his next start for Triple-A Nashville, reports John Shea of the S.F. Chronicle and the other insiders.

The 20-year-old lefty began the season with High-A Stockton but needed only three starts to earn his way up to Double-A Midland. He continued to dominate in the upper minors, making 16 starts and only twice allowing more than two earned runs. In July he put together a string of 35 straight innings without an earned run. Along the way he posted peripheral stats to fully back up his success.

Luzardo, AA: 2.29 ERA, 78⅔ ip, 86 Ks, 18 BB, 5 HR, 58 hits, 2.99 FIP

Of course, that performance comes with a couple caveats. Luzardo is on a strict innings count in his first full season back from the Tommy John surgery he had in high school, and so he’s generally thrown only five frames per start. One time he was efficient enough that he got to pitch the 6th but otherwise it’s been five innings per game, with an average of 70 pitches per start and a high of 83 with Midland. A result of his short outings is that he hasn’t yet experienced going through the opposing lineup for a third time — only once has he gone past 21 batters.

Even with those limitations, though, his season has been an absolute best-case scenario. Baseball Prospectus recently said he’s “probably the most polished pitcher in the minor leagues,” while ranking him as the nation’s No. 13 prospect. MLB Pipeline ranked him No. 12 in their midseason update, and John Sickels of Minor League Ball put him as high as No. 8.

However, despite all that good news, we still shouldn’t expect to see Luzardo in Oakland this season. Shea called it “doubtful,” Julian McWilliams of The Athletic said not to expect it, and Martin Gallegos of the East Bay Times said it’s not something the team has discussed. Nothing is ever impossible, but this looks exceedingly unlikely.

Frankly, I agree with holding him back. I understand playoff fever and the urgency that comes with any opportunity to reach the MLB postseason tournament, but there are reasonable limits to what you can do in pursuit of that goal. The A’s determined what they thought was medically prudent for Luzardo to do this season, and he’s nearly there (93⅓ out of ~120). Deciding to forgo shutting him down and instead toss him into the pressure-cooker of an MLB playoff chase feels like borderline malpractice.

Besides, there’s no guarantee he would even help. He won’t be a viable MLB starter since he’s literally never experienced a full third time through a professional lineup, which means he’d only be coming here as a reliever. He’s never been a reliever before, so now you’d not only be asking him to exceed his preset innings limit, in an MLB playoff chase, but also to do so in a role he’s never held — hey rook, instead of throwing once per week with ample rest, go ahead and start firing max-effort bullets at a moment’s notice every other day out of the pen. It’s asking for trouble in a multitude of ways.

Looking at other top prospects who came up to help win-now teams: Sonny Gray is not a comp, as he was 23 and had half a season of Triple-A before he came up. David Price is not a comp, as he had a full college career behind him and a healthy arm. Adam Wainwright is not a comp for all kinds of reasons, including advanced age and tons of experience. K-Rod is not a comp because he’d already spent a full season as a reliever and half of it came in Triple-A, with a clean bill of health and a full workload the previous year, and no one was trying to convert him back into a starter afterward.

The closest comps for a super-young SP prospect who came up prematurely to help in the bullpen are Joba Chamberlain, Neftali Feliz, and Brandon Finnegan, plus maybe Michael Wacha. Looking at how their careers went after those experiences, none of them are examples the A’s should be looking to follow. There’s no guarantee that they flamed out because of their premature call-ups, but one thing we can say for sure is that none of their teams won rings in exchange for their bold moves. Also, none of them were rebuilding their arms after recent TJS operations.

Leaving Luzardo in the minors this fall is the boring answer, but it’s unquestionably the right one. There is every reason, a perfect storm of reasons, to stick with the plan and let him finish out his pre-arranged bounce-back season. Even for those looking to gamble, there is virtually no historical precedent for rushing a prospect of his specifications and looking back fondly on that decision.

The A’s have a chance at a long-term, cost-controlled, top-of-the-rotation starter as early as next summer, and that’s simply not something they can afford to mess around with. It’s the one thing they need more than anything in the world right now, to pair with the young core in their lineup. They’ve gotta take advantage of this year’s premature opportunity, but not at the expense of jeopardizing the rest of the extended contention window they likely just began. Have some fAith in the club with the fourth-best record in MLB — both that they can succeed with what they’ve already got, and that their success isn’t such a mirage that the front office needs to go all-in as if this is the only shot they’ll ever get.

Dunshee and Howard update

Nothing new to say about them, so let’s just marvel at their updated stats through seven starts each.

Dunshee: 2.96 ERA, 45⅔ ip, 46 Ks, 5 BB, 5 HR, 3.48 FIP
Howard: 2.36 ERA, 42 ip, 41 Ks, 13 BB, 3 HR, 3.52 FIP

That’s over nine strikeouts per walk for Dunshee, as he takes Howard’s title as the K/BB king. It’s tempting to wonder if they could help Oakland this year, especially since they don’t carry the same limitations as Luzardo — they’re older, with no health scares, and they haven’t even matched their career-high innings totals yet. But the word on both is that they still need to master their new changeups before making it in MLB, and I’m perfectly happy to let them finish out the year in Midland doing just that.

Barrera hot

As for the lineup, the biggest story right now is the hot start for Luis Barrera. The outfielder has played 18 games since being called up, and his initial line is impressive:

Barrera, AA: .313/.375/.453, 123 wRC+, 0 HR, 9.6% BB, 8.2% Ks

First and foremost, he’s walking more than he’s striking out so far. His K-rate is Schrockian small, thanks to a tiny swinging-strike rate (7.7%). That makes his high average look more sustainable, since it’s coming with a BABIP within normal range. And when he does get on base he makes an impact with his speed, stealing 8-of-11 bases already. He might be earning his way onto next winter’s CPL right now.

The rest of the lineup:

White, IF: .323/.409/.480, 142 wRC+, 8 HR, 12.0% BB, 19.6% Ks
Ramirez, OF: .275/.364/.427, 115 wRC+, 9 HR, 10.9% BB, 26.9% Ks
Martin, SS: .289/.355/.410, 107 wRC+, 3 HR, 8.3% BB, 18.0% Ks
Mondou, 2B: .236/.309/.306, 69 wRC+, 0 HR, 6.2% BB, 18.5% Ks
Bolt, OF: .213/.292/.324, 67 wRC+, 2 HR, 9.5% BB, 28.1% Ks
Heim, C: .217/.273/.290, 51 wRC+, 1 HR, 6.3% BB, 11.4% Ks

That’s still Eli White at the top, doing everything well and continuing to cut that strikeout rate. His stolen bases (17-for-23) trail only Richie Martin in pure quantity (18-of-26). Tyler Ramirez is hot over his last 10 games (183 wRC+), with an encouragingly low K-rate (22.4%). Skye Bolt has cooled back down in his second Double-A stint, while Nate Mondou and Jonah Heim have been slow to get going after their own promotions (but not enough to worry about in any way).

A few goodbyes

Straying from Midland for a moment, here are a few low-level prospects who have recently been released from the organization:

  • C Lana Akau
  • OF JaVon Shelby
  • OF Austin Piscotty (retired)

On the other hand, recently DFA’d reliever Carlos Ramirez cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Nashville, the team announced Friday.

Friday’s games

Full slate of action.

Triple-A Nashville: LIVE, Frankie Montas vs. Fresno
Double-A Midland: LIVE, Logan Shore vs. San Antonio
High-A Stockton: 7:00 p.m., Wyatt Marks vs. Visalia
Single-A Beloit: LIVE, Jean Ruiz vs. Kane County
Low-A Vermont: LIVE, Gus Varland vs. Hudson Valley

Marks will finally make his High-A debut, after an excellent season in Beloit. This is Shore’s 12th start in Double-A and he’s only been even decent once or twice, so he’s looking for anything at all to build on.

Link to box scores