'Electric' Luzardo could return to Minors in May

A's top lefty prospect and camp standout progressing with rehab program

April 24th, 2019

is the top left-handed pitching prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and A's fans certainly welcomed the recent news that he has resumed throwing after a strained left shoulder idled him in March.

During a sensational spring in which Luzardo struck out 15 batters and posted a 0.93 ERA over 9 2/3 innings in the Cactus League, some evaluators stated that the 21-year-old was the best pitcher at any level of Oakland's organization.

Luzardo threw at a distance of 90 feet on Wednesday. As long as he continues progressing on schedule, Luzardo could be activated in the Minor Leagues by the end of May. And although he has appeared in only four regular-season games above Double-A, Luzardo may arrive in Oakland by the second half of this season.

“I would be very surprised if we don't see him up here at some point in time this year,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said Wednesday. “It's one thing our organization has really been good at, making the team better along the way. When you have an arm like that, we saw what he had to offer in Spring Training, we're all excited to know that he is on his way.”

Luzardo’s eventual Major League debut is likely to generate interest across the country -- and hemisphere -- for reasons that transcend his extraordinary ability and the A’s need for a dominant starting pitcher.

Luzardo is a Venezuelan American, but he was born in Peru, a country that has never produced a Major League player. And he is a 2016 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed in a horrific shooting on Feb. 14, 2018.

Luzardo, who still works out in the offseason with the Stoneman Douglas baseball team, had been scheduled to face hitters in a live batting-practice session on the day of the tragedy. Barely more than one year later, he was composed and resolute when asked about the way his future presence in the Major Leagues could resonate in his community and throughout the country.

“It’s definitely important to me, where I grew up,” he said during a March interview with MLB.com. “I want to put out a good name for Parkland, where I went to high school.

“We’ve got some good [players] who have come out of there -- [Anthony] Rizzo and [Rockies prospect] Colton Welker. We want to show there’s a lot of talent down there and a lot of good people.”

In the wake of the tragedy, Luzardo established a YouCaring page to collect donations for a scholarship fund in honor of Stoneman Douglas athletic director Chris Hixon, who died while heroically coming to the aid of others during the shooting.

Luzardo said that he’s continued to assist with fundraising efforts for the foundation in Hixon’s name.

“He meant a lot to everyone in the school,” Luzardo said. “He was a strict guy, but you knew he came from a good place and meant well. He definitely helped me out when I was [recovering from Tommy John surgery], motivating me to not give up. He was a big part of that.”

Luzardo honored his alma mater during the 2018 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Nationals Park, with a custom-designed right cleat that displayed the Stoneman Douglas colors in memory of the lives lost. Todd Fitz-Gerald, the head baseball coach at Stoneman Douglas, said a group of Parkland residents gathered at a local restaurant to watch Luzardo start for the World Team. He allowed one run over two innings.

“It’s special,” Fitz-Gerald said. “He’s a homegrown kid and a Parkland resident. He wanted to pay respects to the families affected by the tragedy and the people who lost their lives. That says a lot about his character and who he is as a person.”

When Luzardo returned home following the 2018 season, he resumed his offseason routine at Stoneman Douglas and continued mentoring the program’s players.

“He hasn’t changed one bit because of all the success he’s had,” Fitz-Gerald said. “He talks with the guys all the time. He wants the program to be successful today, just like he wanted it to be successful when he was here. The seniors here know him really well.

“We’ll have a game in the fall, and he’ll come and sit in the dugout with us. It’s a really good thing to have him around.”

Luzardo’s graciousness was evident to Fitz-Gerald in spring 2016, when elbow surgery ended Luzardo's senior season after only four weeks. Stoneman Douglas went on to win state and national titles, and Luzardo had to watch from the dugout, all while his Draft status remained in doubt.

“He was first class the whole way,” Fitz-Gerald said. “The only time he missed a game or practice was because of his rehab from the surgery or physical therapy. His attitude was great. I never had to have a discussion with him about letting down. He was always the first guy up in the dugout, picking guys up. He hit for us, too, so that was a big loss for us -- not just on the mound.”

The Nationals selected Luzardo in the third round of the 2016 Draft, knowing he had the surgery three months prior. Luzardo made only three starts for the Nats’ Gulf Coast League affiliate in '17 before his inclusion in a trade (with and ) for relievers and .

Luzardo has pitched only one full season in the Minors, but it hardly appeared that way this spring. He refined the same three-pitch repertoire -- fastball, slider, changeup -- that he’s had since high school. Luzardo is the rare power left-hander with little pro experience and a mature changeup, but he learned it by studying the signature pitch of former Venezuelan ace .

Boomer Prinstein, the former Orioles scout now blogging about his Spring Training observations, called Luzardo his favorite pitching prospect in the sport entering 2019.

“He’s got a great combination of stuff, youth and poise,” A’s catcher , the 11-year Major League veteran, said of Luzardo during Spring Training. “I’ve been really impressed with how aggressive he is on the mound, how he attacks hitters. And then he’s a left-hander throwing 97 with two quality offspeed pitches. He could be a front-line starter for a long time. He has the mentality to do that, too, which is even better.”

A’s right-hander observed how well Luzardo fit into the Major League clubhouse during camp, while relating easily with teammates in English and Spanish conversations.

“I got to pitch with him a little bit last year at Triple-A,” Hendriks said of Luzardo’s four-start cameo with Nashville, during which he had a 7.31 ERA. “You could see the stuff was electric. He just looked a little tired, but it was his first year back from T.J. You expect that.

“Seeing everything this year, you understand. Last year, his fastball was there but the crispness of the breaking ball wasn’t. ... This spring, if you can make a ball break in Arizona, you’re doing something right. The guy’s got good stuff, and he’s a good kid with a good head on his shoulders.”

Hendriks then mentioned how seamlessly Luzardo would fit into the clubhouse if he debuts with the A’s this year, before pausing to correct himself.

When he gets up with us this year,” Hendricks continued, expressing a sentiment certain to be welcomed in Peru, Venezuela, the United States and most especially in Parkland.