Luzardo, Puk and Manaea: The next A’s Big Three?
Much of the Oakland Athletics’ success from the “Moneyball” era came from the greatness of its pitching staff. The A’s have another triplet with the talent to create another era of top-flight pitching in the Bay.
Tuesday night, the Oakland Athletics won 4-3 over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, but it wasn’t nearly the most promising 4-3 win of the night in the organization.
Over a year after his Tommy John surgery cast doubt on his future, 24-year-old long-haired lefty A.J. Puk made his debut for the Double-A Stockton Ports, followed close behind by the 21-year-old Peruvian prospect Jesus Luzardo, returning for the first time from a shoulder strain he sustained before the 2019 season.
Both unanimously considered two of the top-5 left-handed pitching prospects in the minor leagues coming into the 2019 season (Luzardo was top-15 overall by all major scouting networks and Puk topped out at No. 30 by Baseball America, now at No. 35 by MLB), each excelled in short rehab stints.
Puk, who was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, showed off his upper-90s fastball and scintillating slider in two innings of one-run ball.
Luzardo, who the A’s acquired in a 2017 trade with the Washington Nationals (a deal that also brought over Blake Treinen) in exchange for fan favorite Sean Doolittle, flashed great velocity and his ability to get out of a jam in three innings of work.
The A’s have been anticipating the major league debuts of these two for over a year, and the no-hitter from Sean Manaea in April of last season only made the excitement around the organization grow.
The three lefties – Manaea, Luzardo and Puk – have the potential and the support to become the best trifecta in Oakland since the Big Three of Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson of the early 2000s, but they will need patience from the organization to reach that potential.
The A’s have been taping together a serviceable pitching staff for the last few years since Sonny Gray began struggling with injuries in 2016.
Making trades for veteran arms (Mike Fiers, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Edwin Jackson), cycling through prospects (Tanner Anderson, Daniel Mengden, Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt), whatever they have to do to put together a staff, waiting for Puk and Luzardo to break into the major leagues.
With the recent success of Montas (an 8-2 record, 2.78 ERA and 3.95 K/BB ratio in 76.0 innings this season), the prospect of a dominant, young pitching staff has become even more and more a possibility for the A’s.
The new management team has shown a dedication to not only improve the day-to-day operation of the organization – moving towards building a desperately-needed new ballpark in Jack London Square – but to building and maintaining a talent pool that will stay in Oakland (as evidenced by the signing of Khris Davis).
Because the triplets are all still a ways from returning (or debuting) in the big leagues, giving them time to get healthy and prepare for the MLB workload and never-been-better batting talent is vital for their potential future success.
But if they can wait out their recovery and tread water for long enough, once Luzardo, Puk and Manaea join the major league roster – which may be as soon as late summer – they will have a core to build on top of for the foreseeable future (if they really are committed to making this team a multi-year contender).