The Oakland A’s farm enjoyed a relatively healthy first half of the 2019 season, including seven key pitching prospects getting back on the mound after long-term injuries. However, the best and most advanced arm is back on the shelf, and he’s joined there by a few other notable names.
The biggest recent injury news involves pitcher Jesus Luzardo, the consensus top prospect in the organization. The left-hander missed the first two months of the season with a shoulder issue (specifically, a strain of his supraspinatus), but returned to action in mid-June and looked great in five outings, striking out one-third of the batters he faced. However, he exited his start early on Tuesday, and was diagnosed with a Grade 2 lat strain.
For more details on this new lat injury, check out my story at the S.F. Examiner. There was no official timetable when that article was written, but since then Luzardo has been told that it will be “about 4-5 weeks to return to ‘pitching in competition’ if all goes well in rehab,” reports insider Martin Gallegos. The team made clear that this new lat problem is unrelated to the previous shoulder strain.
Hot takes: Obviously this development is a huge bummer, but it doesn’t necessarily end Luzardo’s season. If he can come back without further complications then he can be pitching in the minors in early August, and if that happens then he could theoretically make it to Oakland by the beginning of September, with a fresh arm that hasn’t logged many innings this summer. A lot can go wrong between then and now, and of course it would have been preferable for him to not get hurt, but this looks like more of a bump in the road than a cause for major panic.
Luzardo isn’t the only top pitcher headed back to the injured list, though. Down in High-A Stockton, Gus Varland is landing on the IL for the second time this year, reports Kim Contreras.
It’s not yet clear what sent Varland to the IL this time. The right-hander missed the first two months of the season to knee surgery, and just like Luzardo he made five starts with good results before going down again.
Varland, 2019 A+: 2.39 ERA, 26⅓ ip, 27 Ks, 8 BB, 3 HR, 3.93 FIP
One more name still out of action in High-A is Wyatt Marks, who last pitched in late April due to a shoulder injury. Melissa Lockard of The Athletic specifies that the injury involves his labrum, and reports that he “could return to game action in a few weeks.”
On the bright side, even with Luzardo and Varland hurting again, and Marks still out, five other members of our Community Prospect List are going strong in their own comebacks. Here are some stats updates, including initial struggles for A.J. Puk in his first two games back in Double-A.
Daulton Jefferies (AA): 3.38 ERA, 40 ip, 41 Ks, 2 BB, 4 HR, 3.33 FIP
Grant Holmes (AA): 2.63 ERA, 37⅔ ip, 31 Ks, 14 BB, 3 HR, 4.21 FIP
A.J. Puk (AA): 7.71 ERA, 2⅓ ip, 4 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR, 2.69 FIP
James Kaprielian (A+): 4.32 ERA, 25 ip, 26 Ks, 6 BB, 3 HR, 4.03 FIP
Hogan Harris (A-): 2.30 ERA, 15⅔ ip, 22 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 2.49 FIP
Jefferies keeps plugging along for three great innings at a time, and has now faced 162 batters in Double-A with just two walks. Holmes is finally finding some strikeouts, with 12 in his last 11 innings (out of 42 batters). Kaprielian recorded a season-high six strikeouts on Tuesday, out of 12 batters faced in three innings. Harris one-upped him the next day for Vermont, striking out eight of the 12 batters he faced.
Meanwhile, further down the prospect radar, in the same tweet linked above, Contreras also noted that pitcher Jared Poche’ has retired. The left-hander was drafted in the 9th round in 2017, and held his own in 130 innings for Single-A Beloit last year. This season the 24-year-old missed most of May and June on the IL, and through 25⅓ innings for Stockton he had an 8.53 ERA and 6.24 FIP.
Unfortunately, the recent bad news isn’t limited to the pitching staff. A few hitters are out as well.
First up is shortstop Nick Allen, who has been enjoying a breakout season in High-A at age 20. Just a couple days after Lockard published a wonderful writeup about him at The Athletic, he hurt himself while making a slide.
Lockard followed up with an initial diagnosis of a high-ankle sprain. Known as a defensive whiz, Allen was sporting a 123 wRC+ at the plate, with strong plate discipline, mid-level power, and the team lead in stolen bases.
Also on the IL for Stockton is outfielder Austin Beck. He had previously dealt with right quad soreness for the first two weeks of June, and Lockard notes his quad is bothering him again, though she specifies the left leg this time.
Looking up toward Double-A Midland, outfielder Greg Deichmann hurt his shoulder a couple weeks go while diving for a catch in RF.
Some unfortunate injury news for the @RockHounds : OF Greg Deichmann (former @LSUbaseball, @Athletics #11 overall prospect) left tonight's with an apparent shoulder injury. No word yet from the team on the extent of it.@athleticsnation @WhiteCleatBeat pic.twitter.com/N1tIF0YaFS— Ben Peck (@TheBenPeck) June 20, 2019
Deichmann was slowed by injuries last year too, limiting him to 47 games in Stockton. He’s still searching for his stroke in the pros, with a paltry 73 wRC+ before this latest injury, after struggling to a 77 mark in Stockton last year.
In an odd coincidence, Beck, Deichmann, and Allen represent three of the A’s top four picks in the 2017 draft, along with Midland shortstop Kevin Merrell, who is healthy (as far as I know) but not hitting.
Also in Double-A, Luis Barrera is back on the IL for the second time this season. He had previously missed a couple weeks in April/May to a shoulder problem, and Lockard reports that he “[subluxed] his shoulder” at the end of June. It’s not clear whether it was the same shoulder, but that seems to be the implication from Lockard’s writeup.
Finally, we move up to Triple-A Las Vegas for one last update from Lockard’s post last Monday — by the way, if you haven’t done so yet, please subscribe to The Athletic, which is an amazing site. Lockard reported that catcher Sean Murphy, out since the end of April with a torn meniscus in his knee, is “doing fielding drills and starting to block balls in the dirt, a significant hurdle for catchers returning from a meniscus injury.”
One final name on the IL, from Single-A Beloit, is shortstop Marcos Brito, who last played on May 23.
Here’s how these injuries affect the Community Prospect List:
1. Luzardo, LHP (lat)
3. Murphy, C (knee)
5. Beck, OF (quad)
13. Barrera, OF (shoulder)
15. Deichmann, OF (shoulder)
19. Allen, SS (ankle)
20. Marks, RHP (labrum)
21. Brito, SS (??)
22. Varland, RHP (??)
Best of luck to all the injured A’s prospects in their recoveries!