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Oakland A’s 2019 Community Prospect List #1: Jesus Luzardo is the top prospect

The 21-year-old lefty is expected to debut this summer.

Can he save the A’s rotation this summer?
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Our 2019 Community Prospect List officially has its first member, as pitcher Jesus Luzardo breezed to the top of the inaugural ballot with 143 out of 170 votes. It’s the third time in the last four years that the CPL has been led by a lefty hurler, after Sean Manaea (2016) and A.J. Puk (2018). Here’s the current (somewhat lonely) list, including his winning margin (the difference between his % of the vote, and the % of the runner-up):

  1. Jesus Luzardo, LHP (+78%)

This first CPL vote was really a formality, because there was never any question about who would take the top spot. MLB Pipeline ranked Luzardo No. 12 overall on their national Top 100 list last summer, and he might even move up a couple spots when they update it next weekend. They already named him the best left-handed pitching prospect in the entire sport last week.

The story begins with Luzardo’s excellent stuff, but his hype is based on more than that. His fastball touches 98 mph with a high spin rate, his changeup is possibly the best in the minors, and he can dial down his curveball as slow as 67 mph — the “turkey sub,” as it’s now known. But the thing that ties it all together is his elite control, which is the best in the minors according to MLB’s Jim Callis (for two straight years now). Various reports praise everything from his polish at a young age, to his mental toughness, to his coachability and makeup.

All of that adds up to some lofty comparisons. In this story by Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle, the comps range from Johan Santana, to Francisco Liriano, to Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. A’s special assistant Grady Fuson raved about him to Slusser, and Fuson isn’t known for hyperbolic optimism:

“We haven’t had a pitcher like him since the Big Three,” A’s special assistant Grady Fuson said. “He’s one of the best things to come along here in a while. If you take our own history, he has better stuff than Mulder. He’s got better heat than Zito. You could kind of compare him to Gio Gonzalez at the same point, but with much, much better command.”

For his part, Luzardo spent 2018 living up to every ounce of the hype. He opened in High-A Stockton, but it only took him three laughably dominant starts to get a ticket up to Double-A Midland. Here’s some context for that quick promotion, via Melissa Lockard of The Athletic: “Rich Harden, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill are the only 20 year old pitchers I can think of in the A’s system to reach Double-A. And even they got at least 10 Cal League starts first.”

Luzardo didn’t miss a beat after moving to the upper minors. His numbers for Midland were basically flawless, from the high Ks to the low walks, hits, homers, ERA, and FIP. In 16 starts for the RockHounds he was only bad twice, and at one point he went on a 35-inning streak without allowing an earned run.

The whole package earned him the start for the World Team at the All-Star Futures Game, and he finished his breakout campaign with a cup of coffee in Triple-A. He finally stumbled in that final test with Nashville, but not enough to worry about in any way; the important takeaway is that he made it there at all. Remember, players his age were being drafted out of college last summer — he’s younger than 2018 picks Jameson Hannah and Jeremy Eierman, for example.

The one red flag that Luzardo does carry is his injury history. He already has a Tommy John surgery in his rear-view mirror, back as early as high school no less, and that inherently increases his overall risk. But even then, that downside just leads to more reasons for praise — the time lost previously to a long TJS recovery means that he achieved all of the above despite entering 2018 with virtually zero pro experience and while setting a career-high workload.

Side note: It’s also an impending victory for the A’s recent strategy of gambling on upside in their trade returns even if it means accepting injury baggage, as the 2017 Doolittle/Madson swap is looking like an outright steal now (even if it hasn’t worked out yet with the similarly high-risk Sonny Gray package from that same summer).

The only question now is when Luzardo will arrive in Oakland. He could make sense on the Opening Day roster, or he could wait until midseason and get a few reps in Triple-A just to be safe. One way or other, though, he’s a special talent with the chance to be the next A’s pitching stud. He’s got the stuff, the ability to command it to full effect, and the preliminary results to back it up, all at an absurdly young age that leaves you wondering just where the ceiling might be. And again, he’s left-handed, a trait that Oakland desperately needs right now.

We could go on about Luzardo all day, but let’s leave it with yet another amazing fact: Whenever he does debut, he’ll become the first MLB player ever born in Peru. He’ll literally be setting records even before he throws his first pitch.

Here is the process:

  • Five candidates will be listed on the ballot. The voting will take place in the comments section. I will start with a comment listing all five players, and then I will respond to that with five new comments in the style of “Vote: Player Name” for each candidate. Please do not reply directly to the official “Vote” comments, so that the ballot can stay together in one group.
  • Choose your ONE favorite by Rec’ing the comment with his name. Please only vote for one. The player who receives the most Rec’s earns the next spot on the CPL, while the remaining four players move on to the next ballot where they are joined by a new nominee.
  • In the comments, below the official voting, the community will nominate players to be put onto the ballot for the next round. Similar to the ballot, I will start with a comment calling for nominations, which can then be made as a response to my comment. The format for your comment should be “Nomination: Player Name”.
  • After the first nomination for a player has been put in, all other votes for that player will come from Rec’ing his comment. The player with the most Rec’s earns the nomination.
  • If a prospect is traded, his name will be crossed out, and all other players will be moved up a space. If a prospect is acquired, a special vote will be put up to determine where that player should rank.

* * *

The new nominee is Jorge Mateo. He enjoyed a breakout in Double-A in 2017, but last summer he moved up to Triple-A and struggled all year. It was an aggressively fast promotion, and he had to contend with arguably the toughest pitcher’s park in all of pro baseball in Nashville, so there are excuses to be found if you’re interested. But at some point he’ll need to turn his dynamic tools into consistent production, and 2019 could be a key turning point in that journey for better or worse. It’s not quite now or never for his career, but it might be for his chance in Oakland since this is his final option year.

Hitter rates (poor/avg/great): wRC+ (75/100/135), BB% (5.0%/8.5%/12.0%), K% (30%/22%/14%)

Jorge Mateo, SS

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2018 stats (AAA): 510 PAs, 62 wRC+, 3 HR, 25 SB, 5.7% BB, 27.3% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 45 | Run: 80 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

Mateo has a nice all-around set of tools, but it’s his elite speed that enables him to truly impact games. He led the Minors with 82 steals in 2015 and tied for third with 52 in ‘17 to push his career total to 234 stolen bases in his first six pro seasons. Mateo’s wheels are equally dynamic out of the box, as he regularly turns in top-of-the-scale run times from home to first. His deceptive strength translates to sneaky raw power and he has an offensive ceiling of a .275 hitter with 15 homers per season, though he’ll need to tighten his plate discipline to become a quality leadoff man.

Mateo has the raw tools to stick at shortstop, most notably outstanding range and plus arm strength, though his consistency and focus in the field still leave something to be desired. Some scouts believe he’ll wind up at second base or in center field, the latter of which he played for the first time in his career in 2017.

* * *

A.J. Puk, LHP

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2018 stats: Missed entire season due to Tommy John surgery

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 70 | Slider: 65 | Curveball: 45 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 55

Puk has elite bat-missing ability, a notion supported by his Minor League-leading 13.2 strikeouts-per-nine in 2017. He induces many of those whiffs with his plus fastball-slider pairing, as he’ll operate at 93-97 mph with his heater to set up a devastating mid- to upper-80s slider. Puk also features a curveball and changeup, both of which improved as the season progressed. What’s more, Puk’s entire arsenal plays up because he gets tremendous extension from his 6-foot-7 frame.

Puk made strides as a strike-thrower in his first full season after making an adjustment to his delivery early in the year. His control and command should continue to improve as he learns to control his long levers and repeat his delivery with greater consistency. With further gains on that front, and the development of a more effective changeup to use against right-handed hitters, Puk could achieve his ceiling of a No. 2 starter.

* * *

Sean Murphy, C

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2018 stats (AA): 289 PAs, 131 wRC+, 8 HR, 8.0% BB, 16.3% Ks
2018 stats (AAA): 12 PAs, 2-for-8, 3 BB, 2 Ks, HBP

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 50 | Run: 40 | Arm: 70 | Field: 65 | Overall: 55

Murphy draws raves from evaluators for his athleticism, agility and defensive tools behind the plate. He stymies the running game with plus-plus arm strength and above-average pop times, so much so that only 46 baserunners attempted to steal against him over 91 games in 2017. His blocking, game-calling and receiving skills have all improved in the professional ranks, and club officials consistently praise his ability to handle pitchers.

Offensively, Murphy possesses an intriguing blend of power potential and on-base skills from the right side of the plate. There’s some natural hitting ability there too, and he proved comfortable using the entire field in his first full season. Even if his production is only modest, Murphy’s defensive chops alone could make him an everyday catcher at the highest level.

* * *

Lazaro Armenteros, OF

Expected level: High-A | Age 20

2018 stats (A): 340 PAs, 126 wRC+, 8 HR, 10.6% BB, 33.8% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 55 | Run: 60 | Arm: 45 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

Armenteros stands out for his hitting ability, raw power, speed and overall athleticism, the combination of which gives him the potential for four average-or-better tools. His bat speed is explosive and fuels his projection as an average hitter with above-average power, though his bat path through the zone, as well as his approach and overall plate discipline, will need to be ironed out.

Armenteros is expected to lose some of his speed and athleticism as he continues to grow into his already physically strong and mature frame. He’s best-suited long term for left field, where his below-average arm strength is a clean fit. That doesn’t leave much room for defensive flexibility, but Armenteros has the offensive upside to easily offset those concerns.

* * *

Austin Beck, OF

Expected level: High-A | Age 20

2018 stats (A): 534 PAs, 103 wRC+, 2 HR, 5.6% BB, 21.9% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 55 | Run: 60 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

Beck is loaded with loud, promising tools. He generates well-above-average bat speed from the right side of the plate, albeit with a swing that currently has some holes and overall inconsistencies. That should improve as Beck gains pro experience, however, and it could make him an average hitter in time. Beck’s plus raw power likely will be his calling card and could translate to 25-plus-homer seasons during his prime.

Beyond his offensive tools, Beck also possesses the plus speed and athleticism needed to play center field, where he spent his entire pro debut, though some evaluators peg him as a future right fielder on account of his remaining physical projection and plus arm strength. It may take Beck some time to learn to harness his tools and refine his game, but the final product could be that of a run-producing, everyday outfielder who also adds value with his baserunning and defense.

* * *

Vote in the comments below for your favorite of the five by Rec’ing his “Vote: (Player Name)” comment, and post your nomination(s) as well!