- We’ve known for a while that Jesus Luzardo would be on the move back toward the majors for the Athletics, but it remained to be seen how he’d look after a lengthy absence for shoulder problems. The youngster has only increased the excitement with his performance. He ran up nine strikeouts in four innings in his latest High-A appearance and earned a bump back up to Triple-A, as Martin Gallegos of MLB.com tweets. It’s still possible the 21-year-old could be held down for a while after he’s deemed at full health, but the A’s are surely also anxious to get him onto the MLB roster. There’s no word yet whether fellow rehabbing southpaw pitching prospect A.J. Puk will also move up to the highest level of the minors.
Athletics left-hander Sean Manaea may require just one more simulated game before he can begin a minor-league rehab assignment, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
After undergoing shoulder surgery last September, Manaea was expected to miss the entirety of the 2019 season. However, Manaea is operating well ahead of schedule, and looks on track to return to the Athletics’ rotation this season. Slusser reported in March that Manaea was aiming to return around the All-Star Break in July, and it now appears that the left-hander is progressing well towards that goal, though there is not yet a precise timeline for Manaea to rejoin the A’s.
Slusser notes that A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo, who recently began their own rehab assignments, are likely to return before Manaea, perhaps in early July. Though Puk and Luzardo have each yet to debut in the Major Leagues, both southpaws are widely regarded as MLB-ready prospects who would be pitching in Oakland were it not for untimely injuries.
The addition of Puk, Luzardo, and Manaea would represent a considerable boon to an Athletics club that has essentially treaded water this season. After earning a Wild Card berth last year, the 36-36 Athletics have only managed to hover around .500, remaining on the periphery of the playoff race, but mostly looking like a longshot to rejoin the October fray. Welcoming the aforementioned trio of promising lefties would only help those odds, it would seem, considering the inconsistent starting pitching that has troubled Bob Melvin’s club all season.
Manaea emerged last season as the Athletics’ best starter, pitching 160 2/3 innings for the A’s, ultimately working to a 3.59 ERA. Her peripheral numbers were slightly less impressive, but nonetheless painted Manaea as a valuable left-hander for a playoff club that wanted for starting options. He could slot into a 2019 rotation that has enjoyed a breakout season from Frankie Montas, as well as adequate showings from Chris Bassitt and Brett Anderson. If the three young left-handers can return quickly and make good on their potential, they could fuel a second-half surge in Oakland.
TODAY: Piscotty could be available off the bench today and is tentatively scheduled to be in Monday’s starting lineup, Slusser tweets.
FRIDAY: The Athletics announced startling news Friday on right fielder Stephen Piscotty, who underwent surgery to remove a melanoma from his right ear (full statement via Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle). Fortunately, the surgery was “successful,” according to the Athletics, who expect that Piscotty will be healthy enough to return to the team within a week.
The tumor was spotted during what the A’s called “a routine spot check” on May 28, which led to a biopsy and then the 28-year-old Piscotty’s surgery. Piscotty asked team trainer Nick Paparesta to set up the initial appointment, per general manager David Forst (via Steve Kroner of the Chronicle).
“We believe it was caught early, hopefully as a result of Stephen being vigilant,” Forst said.
While no doubt a frightening experience for Piscotty, it’s a relief that he’ll seemingly recover from it at a quick pace. MLBTR joins those around the game in extending well wishes to Piscotty, whom we hope to see back on the field with the A’s soon.
The Athletics have agreed to terms with Logan Davidson, their top pick in the 2019 draft, according to Jim Callis of MLB.com (via Twitter). A shortstop out of Clemson, Davidson will receive the full slot value of his No. 29 overall selection — a $2,424,600 bonus.
Davidson, 21, hit .291/.412/.574 with 15 home runs, 18 doubles, two triples and 17 stolen bases (in 20 attempts) during his junior year at Clemson. This marks the second time he’s been selected in the draft, as the Phillies picked him in the 30th round back in 2016 but were unable to persuade him to forgo his college commitment.
Heading into the draft, the team at Baseball America was most bullish on Davidson, ranking him 19th on their Top 500. He checked in at No. 21 at MLB.com, No. 27 per ESPN’s Keith Law and No. 29 at Fangraphs. BA praises Davidson as a legitimate shortstop with power and speed while noting that there are questions surrounding his hit tool. Callis and colleague Jonathan Mayo wrote in their report at MLB.com that if scouts were convinced Davidson will hit with a wood bat, he might’ve been the first college shortstop off the board. Concerns surrounding Davidson’s performance with wood bats in last summer’s Cape Cod League are a recurring theme, but the general upside of his power, speed and glove at shortstop nonetheless made him a consensus first-round talent in pre-draft projections.
A pair of highly talented Athletics lefties returned to competitive action yesterday after long layoffs. Prospects A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo each began injury rehab assignments last night, appearing for the High-A Stockton Ports.
That news is quite promising on its own. Better still for the A’s, the southpaw duo looked to be in fine form. As Tyler Maun of MiLB.com writes, both hurlers impressed in 33-pitch piggyback appearances.
Puk came out blazing in his first competitive work since the 2017 season, working in the upper nineties with his acclaimed heater. He ultimately ran up four strikeouts in two frames while permitting one run on one hit — a home run from highly regarded Giants prospect Heliot Ramos.
It’s excellent to see that Puk has regained his arm speed since undergoing Tommy John surgery. He underwent the procedure in April of 2011, temporarily halting what was likely to be a quick run through the Oakland farm system. Puk, who went sixth overall in the 2016 draft, had been expected to make his way to the majors early in the 2018 campaign after an impressive showing in MLB camp that year.
The story isn’t altogether different for Luzardo, who featured in a similar role in the spring of 2019. He also had hopes of a swift rise to the majors dashed by injury. In his case, shoulder troubles caused the team to order a shutdown late in camp. The organization understandably set a cautious course for the 21-year-old hurler.
Last night, Luzardo spun three scoreless frames. He struck out two, with Ramos among the victims, while logging 24 strikes in his 33 pitches. That’s efficient work from the precocious hurler, who is known most for his exceptional feel and command over his three-pitch arsenal.
Where things go from here will depend upon quite a few factors, including the way that Puk and Luzardo recover from their first big tests. There’s little question that they’ll be tasked with multiple additional rehab starts while they build up their pitch counts and the club evaluates their readiness. But it’s hard not to dream on successive MLB debuts as soon as early July.
“I just know that they’re going to be throwing pretty consistently now until the end of the year,” Stockton pitching coach Chris Smith says. “The gloves are off. They want to see those kids hit the ground running.”
That’s an encouraging takeaway for A’s fans. These exciting young pitchers still have hurdles to clear before reaching the majors, but that goal is now clearly in sight. Adding them to a generally subpar rotation mix would completely change the complexion of the Oakland pitching staff. Whether that’ll occur remains to be seen, but the A’s ought to have a good sense before the trade deadline.
The Athletics haven’t seen one of their starters post a sub-3.00 ERA in a season since left-hander Rich Hill accomplished the feat in 2016, albeit during a truncated run in their uniform. Hill fired 76 innings of 2.25 ERA/2.54 FIP ball that year before the out-of-contention A’s sent him and outfielder Josh Reddick to the Dodgers for a three-player package. Now, three years later, one part of the Athletics’ return is on track for the top season an A’s starter has put up since Hill’s exit.
When he joined the A’s in the Hill trade, right-hander Frankie Montas ranked as Baseball America’s 82nd-best prospect. Despite Montas’ high upside, it was already the third deal involving him since he signed with the Red Sox in 2010 as a free agent from the Dominican Republic. The Red Sox traded Montas to the White Sox in 2013 in a large, three-team swap which delivered righty Jake Peavy to Boston. Two years after that, the ChiSox flipped Montas to the Dodgers in yet another three-club trade – this time to land third baseman Todd Frazier.
While Montas has been somewhat nomadic as a professional, it appears the 26-year-old has found a home in Oakland. Montas didn’t pitch in his first year with the organization because of a rib injury, and he then registered inconsistent results between the majors and minors in 2017. However, in logging a 3.88 ERA/3.90 FIP in 65 major league innings last season, Montas pitched his way into the A’s 2019 rotation. They’re now the beneficiaries of an ace-like version of Montas, who has amassed 76 innings of 2.84 ERA/3.04 FIP ball to emerge as one of the majors’ breakout starters.
Montas’ quality run prevention last year came with fewer than six strikeouts per nine innings, but that figure has rocketed to 9.36 this season. Meanwhile, Montas is walking fewer hitters (2.37 per nine, down from 2.91), generating far more ground balls (51.4 percent now versus 43.7 in 2018) and inducing significantly more infield flies (11.7 percent, up from 4.5). Unsurprisingly given those numbers, home runs haven’t haunted Montas, who has yielded HRs on 10 percent of fly balls. So the A’s have a starter who racks up strikeouts, seldom walks anyone, keeps the ball on the ground and stops it from leaving in the ballpark. That sounds a lot like the 2016 version of Hill, which is a high compliment.
The question is: How is Montas doing this? Well, it helps when you’re one of the hardest-throwing starters in baseball. His high-spin four-seam fastball clocks in at upward of 97 mph, which ranks fifth in the game and just ahead of stars Gerrit Cole, Walker Buehler and Jacob deGrom. Hitters have mustered an unimposing .279 weighted on-base average versus Montas’ four-seamer, and they’ve done even worse against his slider (.198) and splitter (.243), according to Statcast. Montas throws each of those pitches at least 17 percent of the time, but he relies primarily on his sinker (38.6 percent). It’s a drastically different repertoire than Montas offered in 2018, when his sinker (55.4 percent) was his go-to pitch. He also occasionally featured a changeup that’s no longer in the picture.
Of course, altering your pitch mix doesn’t guarantee stardom. You’d better be able to command those pitches, too. Montas has to this point. Heatmaps via FanGraphs (2018, 2019) indicate he’s doing a better job keeping his pitches down and locating fewer of them in the middle of the plate compared to last season. In the process, Montas has thrown more strikes in general, raised his swinging-strike rate from 8.6 percent to 11.1, fooled more hitters into chasing his offerings outside the zone and dropped his contact rate against by nearly 5 percent. When hitters have made contact off Montas, it hasn’t been particularly damaging, and that doesn’t look as if it’s going to change. After all, his xwOBA against (.283) is even better than the nonthreatening .292 wOBA batters have managed so far. Beyond that, there’s nothing unusual in the .306 batting average on balls in play Montas has surrendered.
When Oakland unexpectedly earned a wild-card berth in 2018, it used reliever Liam Hendriks as an opener because it was lacking a front-line starter. Hendriks ended up enduring a rough outing during a loss for the Athletics, who are once again in wild-card contention. And if the A’s make it back to the one-game playoff this year, they just may be able to turn to an ace-like hurler in Montas.
Regardless of how the team’s season shakes out, it looks as though it has a long-term building block in Montas. The fact that Montas will make a minimal salary through next season and isn’t scheduled to become a free agent until after 2023 is all the better for the low-budget A’s, who also have no shortage of other promising starters. While Sean Manaea, Jesus Luzardo A.J. Puk, James Kaprielian and Jharel Cotton have all dealt with notable injuries of late, the ability is evident in each case. With at least some members of that group eventually slated to join Montas in Oakland, the club may be on the cusp of boasting a controllable, talent-rich rotation.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Hundley, whom Oakland signed to a minor league contract in February, made its roster but got off to a miserable start prior to his IL placement. The 35-year-old hit just .200/.233/.357 (55 wRC+) in 73 plate appearances before landing on the shelf. Nevertheless, he and Josh Phegley are the only Athletics catchers who have logged playing time this season.
A fifth-round pick of the A’s in 2011, Taylor experienced a brief stint with the club in 2018 but only picked up six PA. The A’s then outrighted Taylor on Nov. 5, only to re-sign him to a minor league deal a week later. The 28-year-old slashed an excellent .297/.450/.492 (141 wRC+) with five home runs and 33 walks against 38 strikeouts in 151 PA as a member of the team’s Triple-A affiliate before it called him back up.
Per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, A’s lefties A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo will each begin a rehab stint on Tuesday with High-A Stockton. Puk will be making his first live-game mound appearance since undergoing Tommy John Surgery last April, while Luzardo, who’d been dealing with left shoulder soreness, will appear in an official game for the first time since last August.
Puk, a 6’7 lefty who was the sixth overall pick in the 2016 draft, had laid waste to the minors before his injury in the Spring of last season. His “double-plus” fastball and “vicious” (adjectives per Baseball America) slider allowed him to post double-digit strikeout rates in each of his three minor-league stops, culminating in a 61-inning stint for Double-A Midland in which the U of Florida product set down 86 batters in just 64 innings. It’ll surely be a lengthy rehab process for the projected ace, though it appears the club will use him in relief should he crack the majors this season.
Luzardo, a 21-year-old Peruvian-born hurler, was acquired in mid-2017 from Washington with Blake Treinen for relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. Little known at the time of the deal, Luzardo has rocketed up prospect lists after dominating performances of his own the last two seasons. Baseball America ranked him as the top lefty in the minors after 2018, waxing especially thorough on his changeup, which the site ranks as one of the minors’ best. Shoulder injuries are always cause for serious concern, but if Luzardo can make it through his first few outings unscathed, he’ll be a strong candidate to crack what’s been a middling A’s rotation thus far.
11:49pm: Not only do the Athletics believe Cotton will pitch again this season, but they’re confident he will return “at a fairly rapid pace,” team trainer Nick Paparesta said (via Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle). Cotton will begin throwing again in a week to 10 days, per Paparesta.
5:06pm: The Athletics announced Thursday that right-hander Jharel Cotton underwent right hamstring debridement surgery earlier today. He’ll remain in Dallas, where the operation was performed, until a followup appointment next week before returning to Oakland to continue his rehab.
Cotton hasn’t pitched in 2019, as he’s been on the mend from Tommy John surgery he underwent last spring. He’d gone out on a rehab assignment and was expected to return to the club as a reliever, but today’s surgery obviously clouds his potential return. It’s not fully clear now when he’ll be activated — or even if he can be expected back in 2019 at all. Presumably, the Athletics will provide a further timetable once they have more information.
The 27-year-old Cotton came to the A’s alongside Frankie Montas and Grant Holmes in the 2016 trade that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers. To this point, the righty has yet to find much consistency in the big leagues, although he’s certainly shown glimpses of his potential. He’s a former top 100 prospect with 158 1/3 innings of 4.95 ERA ball under his belt, averaging 7.3 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 along the way.
- It looks like Athletics hurler Paul Blackburn will get his first shot at MLB action this year, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that he’s likely to come onto the roster to pitch this weekend. Blackburn, 25, has pitched to a 4.48 ERA in 16 starts over the prior two seasons but has remained on optional assignment at Triple-A to begin the present campaign. He carries a 4.55 ERA in 57 1/3 innings there, recording a 45:18 K/BB ratio and surrendering ten long balls.