If you had asked anyone within the A’s organization in February about top prospect Jesus Luzardo pitching in the big leagues in 2019, the answer would have been some kind of “when, not if” reply. And most would have put the over/under at some point in the first month or two of the season.
The 21-year-old lefty was given an opportunity, after all, to win a job in the rotation out of Spring Training and had pitched well. An early callup seemed probable until he suffered a shoulder strain near the end of spring. He didn’t return to the mound competitively until June 11 and had made just five starts when he suffered a Grade 2 lat strain, setting him back even more.
That injury cost the talented southpaw another month, but he quickly worked his way back to the Triple-A Las Vegas rotation and worked 5 2/3 of one-run ball, striking out seven in a Pacific Coast League playoff win on Friday. And now, after two delays that were longer than expected, he’s being added to the 40-man roster and coming to the big leagues to join the A’s in Houston.
A no-doubt frontline type starter in the long term, it seems more likely that Luzardo will be used as a reliever in the final few weeks of the regular season. With only 43 innings under his belt in 2019, his arm is undoubtedly fresh, so if he’s needed to fill multiple innings, he should be more than ready.
The only big question mark regarding Luzardo’s future might be his durability. The No. 18 overall prospect in baseball had Tommy John surgery in the spring of his senior of high school before the Nationals selected him in the third round of the 2016 Draft. The A’s acquired him in the 2017 deal that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington and then watched him quickly ascend the ladder until the pair of injuries hit this year.
As a result of the lost time and his quick climb, he’s thrown fewer than 200 career innings, but there’s no doubt his stuff is ready to get big league hitters out. Here’s a breakdown of his full repertoire.
Fastball: Back to full strength, Luzardo is once again firing fastballs that touch the upper-90s. As a starter, it will sit in the mid-90s, and it’s easy to envision a tick or two more in shorter stints out of the bullpen. He can command it extremely well to both sides of the plate while throwing it with sink, which allowed him to post a 2.17 groundout-to-airout ratio in 2019 (1.29 for his career) and a 10.8 career strikeout per nine ratio.
Curveball: Luzardo has worked hard to improve his breaking ball, and it’s at least above-average at this point. It plays up because he will add and subtract to at will and can throw it for strikes at any point in the count.
Changeup: His best secondary offering, his changeup, is one of the best offspeed pitches in the Minors. He throws it with a ton of fade and sink, giving him another pitch that both misses bats and gets weak contact on the ground.
Control: It’s not just that Luzardo throws strikes, though he does fill up the zone so consistently (2.0 walks per nine in his career). His ability to command the baseball to all quadrants -- throwing any of his three pitches at any point in the count for strikes -- is a big reason why he has a long future as a big league starter ahead of him.