Name: Jesus Luzardo
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 205
Acquired: Traded from the Washington Nationals on July 16, 2017.
While big league reliever Blake Treinen may have been the most well known player in the package the Oakland A’s received from the Washington Nationals for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, it is quite possible the deal will ultimately be known as the Jesus Luzardo trade. The lefty dominated in his first professional season. What’s next for the 20-year-old?
Before signing his first professional contract on June 20, 2016, Luzardo had a decision to make: go to the University of Miami or join the Washington Nationals as a third-round pick? The decision was made even more difficult by the fact that Luzardo was recovering from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent during his senior year of high school. Ultimately, Luzardo opted to join the Nationals and complete his rehab with a professional team’s training staff. Not even two years removed from signing, Luzardo appears to have made the right decision.
Under the watchful eye of the Nationals’ training staff, Luzardo completed his rehab and returned to the mound at the start of the Gulf Coast League (RK) season in 2017, 14 months after having surgery. Luzardo dominated in his first three outings, allowing two runs in 13.2 innings and striking out 15 while walking none. The A’s were already high on Luzardo leading up to the 2016 draft and seeing him healthy as they were engaged in trade talks with the Nationals made it easy for the A’s to ask for him in return for their two relievers.
Luzardo picked up where he left off with the A’s Rookie League team after the trade. In 11.2 innings, he allowed just two runs and one walk, striking out 13. He was so good the A’s coaching staff elected to add him to the short-season Vermont starting rotation while the Lake Monsters chased a postseason berth. Despite being one of the youngest pitchers on the team, Luzardo played the ace role again with Vermont. In 18 innings, he allowed four earned runs and posted a 20:4 K:BB. He made one postseason start for the Lake Monsters and was brilliant, allowing just a hit and a walk in five scoreless innings.
A’s minor league pitching coach Gil Patterson was equally impressed with Luzardo’s pitching repertoire and his maturity.
“This guy is special. I saw him twice in the AZL before he moved up,” Patterson said in a postseason interview. “I said, ‘can you please send him to Vermont?’ [laughs] Nuke [Aaron Nieckula, Vermont manager] and Bryan [Corey, Vermont pitching coach] said, ‘we are happy with the guys we have,’ and I said, ‘wait until you see this.’
“For as good as he is on the mound with his stuff, he’s equally as good in the clubhouse. He’s really good. The fastball has life. Good breaking ball. Good change-up. Good feel for pitching. He’s going to be really good.”
Luzardo has a plus fastball that he can add and subtract from that was clocked as high as 97 MPH during the season. He locates the pitch to both sides of the plate and it gets late-run and sink. Luzardo has a plus curveball and a changeup that has shown flashes of being a potentially above-average offering.
Luzardo’s health will be closely monitored given that he has already had surgery once on his elbow, but he has the build to be a workhorse starter. He is a fierce competitor who shows remarkable focus from pitch to pitch. The A’s won’t rush Luzardo, but they also won’t be afraid to push him against more advanced competition.
Between the regular and postseason, Luzardo threw 48.1 innings last season. He also threw another 20 or so in Extended Spring Training. The A’s will likely limit Luzardo to 100-110 innings in 2018, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see them challenge him from a level perspective during the season.
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