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Oakland A’s 2020 Community Prospect List #1: Jesus Luzardo is the top prospect

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The lefty takes the top spot for the second straight year.

Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Our 2020 Community Prospect List officially has its first member, as pitcher Jesus Luzardo breezed to the top of the inaugural ballot with 129 out of 146 votes. It’s the second straight year that Luzardo has earned the No. 1 spot on our CPL in a landslide, and the fourth time in five years that the rankings have 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 (+84%)

This first CPL vote was really a formality, because there was never any question about who would take the top spot. Luzardo is one of the best prospects in the entire sport, ranking No. 9 overall at both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, No. 11 at MLB Pipeline, and No. 13 via John Sickels. He’s not just Oakland’s current best right now, he’s the most elite prospect they’ve had in years, since at least Addison Russell entering 2014.

What’s left to say about Luzardo? He’s the full package. He’s got electric stuff, including upper-90s heat and the best changeup in the minors (according to MLB Pipeline). He has excellent control and knows how to command his arsenal to its full effect, and we’ve already briefly seen him succeed against MLB hitters, including three scoreless innings in the real-life postseason. He draws raves for his makeup and maturity at age 22.

The only question surrounding Luzardo is his health. He already has a Tommy John surgery on his record from high school, and he missed much of 2019 to shoulder and lat injuries. But whenever he’s been able to get on the mound, he’s been dominant, and if he stays healthy in 2020 then he should be a front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year.

Often when we talk prospects, it’s all hopes and dreams for players we’ve only read about. This is different. Luzardo is real, and he’s here right now. We’ve all seen him pitch in the bigs, and he figures to be a significant contributor to another contending Oakland squad this summer.

Here is the voting 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 Robert Puason. The 17-year-old international free agent was the biggest addition to the A’s system in 2019, demanding more than twice as much money as their 1st-round pick in the draft. He’s a long-long-term project and figures to get started in Rookie Ball this year, but he has good-to-great tools across the board that give him a strong ceiling as a switch-hitting everyday shortstop.

Hitter rates (poor/avg/great):

  • wRC+ (75/100/135)
  • BB% (5.0%/8.5%/12.0%)
  • K% (30%/22%/14%)

Nominees on the current ballot:

A.J. Puk, LHP

Expected level: MLB | Age 25

2019 stats (AAA): 4.91 ERA, 11 ip, 16 Ks, 3 BB, 3 HR, 5.52 FIP
2019 stats (MLB): 3.18 ERA, 11⅓ ip, 13 Ks, 5 BB, 1 HR, 3.39 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report (2020):

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

Puk’s pure stuff is as good as any lefty prospect in the game, though his command of it keeps him a half-step behind some. He has a premium fastball that averaged just over 97 mph and touched triple digits during his time in the big leagues. His nasty slider touches the low-90s and misses a ton of bats and his changeup is nearly as good at times as well. He’ll mix in a curve now and again and it gives him a fourth average pitch in his arsenal. All of it comes from his 6-foot-7 frame and gets on hitters in a hurry thanks to his tremendous extension.

Before Puk got hurt, his strike-throwing had improved from his college days, though there was a little rust once he got back on the mound competitively post-surgery. He’s never going to have pinpoint command, but if he can find the strike zone consistently, he has the stuff to pitch near the top of a rotation.

* * *

Sean Murphy, C

Expected level: MLB | Age 25

2019 stats (AAA): 140 PAs, 136 wRC+, 10 HR, 10.7% BB, 22.1% Ks
2019 stats (MLB): 60 PAs, 135 wRC+, 4 HR, 10.0% BB, 26.7% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report (2020):

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

While Murphy has always been known for his glove work, he has the chance to be an impact player on both sides of the ball. He continues to make a ton of contact with his short right-handed swing, keeping his strikeouts low. That’s all the more impressive because of his considerable power, which could eventually be above-average at his peak.

Even when he’s not hitting, Murphy can make a huge impact behind the plate. He has great hands and one of the strongest arms of any position player prospect in the game. He’s agile with excellent footwork and pitchers love to throw to him because of his receiving and game-calling skills. Assuming health, he has all the tools to become a standout big league regular now.

* * *

Daulton Jefferies, RHP

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2019 stats (A+): 2.40 ERA, 15 ip, 21 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR, 2.13 FIP
2019 stats (AA): 3.66 ERA, 64 ip, 72 Ks, 7 BB, 7 HR, 3.19 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report (mid-2019):

Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 55 | Overall: 45

Jefferies did participate in mini camp as the 2019 season approached and the ball was coming out of his hand well. His velocity was up to 90-91 mph in bullpen sessions and he’d shown excellent command of his low-90s fastball in the past. His changeup has the chance to be a plus pitch, thrown with terrific deception, and the bottom falls out of the pitch. His slider looks more like a cutter to some and it has more teeth that way, with the A’s wishing he would have a little more finish on the end of it to turn it into a better-than-average pitch.

Jefferies was always known as a strike-thrower before the injury, and he got back to filling up the zone in 2019. After good post-surgery progress, he’s attacking the organizational ladder in earnest.

* * *

Nick Allen, SS

Expected level: Double-A | Age 21

2019 stats (A+): 328 PAs, 122 wRC+, 3 HR, 8.5% BB, 15.9% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report (mid-2019):

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 30 | Run: 60 | Arm: 60 | Field: 65 | Overall: 50

Allen certainly did struggle in the first half of 2018, hitting just .198 with a. .513 OPS in the Midwest League before the All-Star break. Some of that is because of the aforementioned lack of strength, though the A’s think he can add some to help him stay durable, but much of it can be attributed to Allen having to deal with the loss of a family member in early May. In the second half, Allen corrected a little drift in his swing and started impacting the baseball more, posting a .274 average and .679 OPS after the break. His walk rate went up and his strikeout rate dropped as his pitch recognition improved. He also stopped worrying about trying to lift or drive the ball, understanding that consistent contact and on-base skills, combined with his plus speed, are his ticket.

There’s never been any question that Allen’s glove will carry him to the big leagues. His arm is strong and accurate and he can throw from any angle to go along with his plus range and outstanding hands. A greater understanding of who he is offensively could help him become a defensive-oriented regular.

* * *

Robert Puason, SS

Expected level: Rookie League | Age 17

2019 stats: Has not played U.S. pro ball yet

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report (mid-2019):

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 65 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

The A’s had just over $5.9 million in their international bonus pool at the start of the 2019-20 signing period. They used nearly all of it, $5.1 million, to sign Puason, the talented shortstop who was ranked No. 2 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 international prospect list.

Puason is lean and wiry, with a projectable and durable frame. A fast-twitch athlete, the switch-hitter can make solid contact from both sides of the plate. He has shown a polished approach with fluid swings and the ability to spray line drives to all fields. He has good barrel control and extension for his age. Like most prospects his age, he continues to work on his hitting mechanics, and it’s the development of the hit tool that could make him an everyday player in the big leagues one day. For now, he uses a semi-open stance and semi-uppercut swing from both sides and projects to have average power. He’s already an above-average runner.

On defense, he shows fluid actions and good footwork. He has an above-average throwing arm now with solid carry and it’s expected to get better as he develops. Add good hands along with great instincts, and it makes for an above-average package that could keep Puason at shortstop for the rest of his career.

* * *

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!

Programming Note: Each CPL vote will run for around 24 hours, so don’t delay making your selections!