Honestly, I wanted to take this whole week off. That was kind of my plan, but five minutes into getting my ass whipped by my 7 year old in video games, I decided to throw in the towel and retire to my study, determined to find Jesus. What I discovered instead was a 98 MPH fastball, a coaster from Dr. James Andrews waiting room, a video of Mike Rizzo writing his name and a smug photo of Billy Beane on a treadmill. What kind of Christmas caper did I find myself involved with? Is this the plot line to Ocean’s 16? A film I’m pitching to Grey about me and a bunch of unsigned international prospects storming Dan Duquette’s office, and demanding he sign them all… Why was the couch in my study talking to me? And what exactly was in my Aunt’s “medicated” candied bacon? I had to get to the bottom of this. But first, let’s talk about why Oakland Athletics lefthanded pitching prospect Jesus Luzardo has me ready to scorn my life of sin and debauchery for a higher purpose.
When news broke on July 16th that the Oakland Athletics had traded a tandem of relievers in Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle to the Washington Nationals for Blake Treinen, Sheldon Neuse, and Jesus Luzardo, most of the reaction was centered around the Nationals adding some much needed bullpen help. And rightfully so. They were a playoff team that had long needed reinforcements in the back end of their bullpen. But if you know me, you know that’s just not how I think. I’m always focused on the prospects, and I did have some general familiarity with both. Neuse was a former second rounder out of Oklahoma with a good bat, a useful player, and one I’ve covered, but he didn’t get the juices going. That feeling was reserved for Luzardo. A prep lefty with first round talent, who tore his UCL at the wrong time; March of his senior year of high school. This caused Luzardo’s draft stock to obviously plummet, allowing the Washington Nationals to snag him in the third round of the 2016 draft. If you’re someone who follows the draft, you’re probably well aware that the Nationals have made an art out of drafting highly talented arms with UCL tears, and turning them into to pretty good prospects (see Giolito, Lucas or Fedde, Erick). Luzardo was the next in a long line of these types.
His professional debut was a success, allowing 2 runs over 13.2 innings for the Nats squad in the Gulf Coast League. Most impressively he struckout 15 batters without issuing a walk prior to the trade. Then the aforementioned trade went down, Luzardo was shipped to Oakland and the rest as they say is, well, the rest of his season. Upon joining the Athletics organization Luzardo was assigned to the rookie level Arizona League, and proceeded to make four appearances, three of them starts, totaling 11.2 innings, and again allowing just 2 earned runs. This time he struckout 13 batters while issuing a single walk.
Following 25.1 stellar innings of rookie ball the Athletics felt it was time to promote Luzardo, assigning him to the Vermont Lake Monsters of the New York Penn League. There Luzardo continued to impress, going 18 innings over 5 starts, allowing 4 runs, while striking out 20 to just 4 walks. Needless to say, one might deduct that Luzardo has the ability to miss bats without having to sacrifice control. Excellent signs from a young lefty with electrifying stuff. Oh you want to know more about his stuff? **Nods Head**
Luzardo’s arsenal is led by a four-seam fastball that sits mid-90’s, popping 98 on occasion. It features good sinking action, and he locates it well to both sides of the plate. His curveball gets plus grades, and looks like a serious out pitch. See for yourself…
That’s a nasty breaking ball, and with how well he hides the ball it’s an impossible pitch for rookie ball hitters to pickup. And that’s not an isolated incident, throughout Luzardo’s rookie ball videos you see his advanced feel for his curveball. Putting something on it here, and taking something off there, burying that knockout blow over and over again. It gets better, every scout that has watched him universally agrees his changeup is his best secondary, and I’ve seen a few 70 grades put on it. Serious stuff.
The question obviously remains, much like it does with previous sleeper focus Jorge Guzman, how much can we really trust what we’ve seen at the lower levels? It’s a fair question, and one we cannot answer definitively right now. I can say it’s not often you see a player regain his stuff, and more importantly feel and control so quickly following elbow surgery. It’s also rare to see a pitcher, outside the most polished college arms, enter pro-ball with such a well defined breaking ball, and really lethal off-speed pitch. This combined with the deception of his delivery from the leftside adds up to a potentially elite pitching prospect in the not too distant future. There’s certainly durability questions as there are with all pitchers coming back from arm surgery, but it’s no longer uncharted waters.
Go add Jesus Luzardo where you can.