There is something magical about the day pitchers and catchers report, which is odd because not much actually happens. This is not the day you’re wowed by Jesus Luzardo’s 97MPH fastball on the black, because today Luzardo likely just played catch. But to any baseball fan, it is officially the first day of spring.
For one thing, the news will start having daily baseball features and fewer words devoted to lesser sports (apparently a local football team did pretty well this year and a local basketball team isn’t faring as well).
So today I won’t pontificate on dogs and cats living together (likely in sin, at least I sure hope so) and will turn our collective attention to the most intriguing questions surrounding the A’s pitchers and catchers — who reported today, did you hear???
How will the A’s manage innings restrictions for Luzardo and Puk?
I think this is one of the most interesting story lines going into the season, partly because ultimately Oakland’s biggest challenge in staying with the Astros will be their ability to keep a dominant rotation on the mound despite starting camp “6 strong”.
2 of those 6 are coming off seasons in which they threw, at all levels combined, 43 IP (Luzardo) and 25.1 IP (Puk). If all 6 horses (Montas, Manaea, Fiers, Luzardo, Bassitt, Puk) are healthy, do the A’s start Puk at AAA, thereby spending some minor league “bullets” but giving Puk more seasoning time, more contract control down the line, and an easier time limiting innings? Or would the A’s consider something more extreme such as sending Puk to “extended spring training” where he would get more tutelage and fire fewer actual bullets?
If you’re Puk and are 6th on the depth chart, you may as well plan to be in the “top 5” since no one can recall the last time the A’s had all 5 of their top SPs get through spring training healthy. But given the possibility — and as far as we know all 6 are still healthy after stretching and playing catch today — I do want to throw an additional consideration out there...
Puk’s comparisons to Randy Johnson are unfair, in that Johnson represents the very, very ceiling a pitcher can reach. That being said, where the comps are legitimate are in both being very tall and lanky, as well as highly left-handed. And we know that pitchers of this body type often take more time to refine their mechanics, gain full command of their arsenal, and blossom.
Case in point, Johnson turned 26 in his first full major league season, having struggled mightily with control. That year Johnson walked 96 batters in 160.2 IP on his way to posting a 4.82 ERA with Seattle. The year he turned 27 Johnson walked another 120 batters, albeit in a horse-like 220 IP in which he was far more effective. The next 2 seasons he walked 152 and 144, finally dropping to “double digits” with a mere 99 walks in 1993. In September of that season, Johnson turned 30. And in his 30s he was utterly fantastic.
Meanwhile, back to Puk. Puk will turn 25 in April, meaning that if the A’s give him some minor league time in 2020 the extra year of contract control will come in his age 31 season. For many, if not most, pitchers you would take their age 25 season over their age 31 season. With a pitcher of Puk’s profile, though, I’m not so sure this is the case. Yes, all pitchers are ticking time bombs and yes, Puk is already a one-time TJS survivor, and no he is not Randy Johnson, but I will not be mad if he fires a few of his 2020 bullets at AAA, where he has just 11 career IP and could likely use time to further refine his mechanics, and the A’s bet on him blossoming a touch later than the average hurler.
Can Austin Allen catch?
I don’t mean can Allen literally catch a pitch (well, Josh Phegley couldn’t). I mean is he actually a catcher, or is he a hitter currently listed at that position? Like “Jason Giambi: Third baseman,” or “Grant Green: Anywhere”.
The A’s front office has indicated they do see Allen as a catcher and cite his improvement each year to date, but does that mean he is ready to catch, in the big leagues, in a pennant race, right now? That’s a big leap, even in a backup role.
You wonder because so far, Oakland has not gone out and hedged its bets with many alternative options. Jonah Heim is coming off a terrific season but rarely gets mentioned as a viable option to start the season (why, I’m not quite sure). Carlos Perez was signed to a minor league deal as depth, but is right-handed and boasts (he probably shouldn’t) a career batting line of .215/.257./.319. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s a 56 wRC+.
Of course it’s still only mid-February and two springs ago Oakland inked Jonathan Lucroy to a deal in mid-March to be their primary catcher. Lucroy himself, and Russell Martin, are still out there waiting for a suitor to offer a glass slipper for their finely carved foot. But while spring training, for most, is for stretching out the arm, getting the ol’ timing back on the swing, and so forth, for Allen it is probably an essential audition of his receiving skills.
Thoughts on the best way for the A’s to leverage Puk, and to a lesser degree, Luzardo, as they try to contribute to a deep playoff run while protecting their gazillion dollar arms? Ideas on where you think the A’s brain trust is at with regard to the catcher depth chart and the suitability of the status quo? Other ponderings on pitchers and catchers (who reported today!!!!!)? Or on anything else, really. We’re very open minded during the slow times. That are getting faster, I should note, because —
— well, I think you know.