Youth Movement: A’s hope trio of top prospects make an immediate impact

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–The Dodgers traded for Mookie Betts, the Yankees signed free agent Gerrit Cole, who is anything but free, and the Twins struck late, adding Josh Donaldson to their collection of sluggers.

The A’s didn’t sign any big names, or little ones for that matter. But that doesn’t mean they stood put. A.J. Puk, Jesus Luzardo and Sean Murphy–each among the Top 60 prospects in all of baseball–are being counted on to be big league contributors starting on Opening Night July 24.

Luzardo, the A’s No. 1 prospect, has been cleared to resume workouts after testing positive for COVID-19, the timing of which threatened his availability for the opener. But while preparing to be cleared, Luzardo lobbied the coaching staff, and did whatever he could physically to gain preparedness.

“I figured out ways to get little lifts in my room while listening to my body,” Luzardo said. “If I was feeling good that day, I’d get after it. If I was a little tired, I took it lighter. I definitely tried to stay in shape.”

Originally tabbed as a starter, Luzardo could start the season in the bullpen, where he would remain ideally until he regains a starter’s stamina. Puk seems set as the fourth starter with Murphy assuming the starting catcher’s role after a successful, 20-game audition in 2019.

Puk, Luzardo and Murphy all saw time at the big league level last season, and given their performances, expectations are high that all three can excel and kiss the minor leagues farewell.

Murphy was a third round selection in the 2016 Draft and he’s moved quickly through the organization’s minor league structure,  compiling 90 extra-base hits in 235 games over four seasons. The 24-year old impressed manager Bob Melvin with his attention to detail in handling the pitching staff, so much so he was picked to start the AL Wild Card Game against the Rays. Murphy’s had issues with knee injuries so the shortened 60-game schedule may prove ideal for his adjustment to the majors.

Puk, the 6’7” flamethrower chosen sixth overall in the 2016 Draft, made ten appearances, all in relief, for Oakland in 2019. He was 2-0 with 3.18 ERA, striking out 13 batters in 11 plus innings of work. Despite missing all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery,  Puk compiled 262 strikeouts in 183 innings at the various minor league levels.

The 24-year old hasn’t experienced any setbacks in either spring or summer training, giving him jump on veterans Daniel Mengden and Chris Bassitt for a spot in the starting rotation. No official announcements have been made but Puk appears on track to get a start against the Angels opening weekend.

Luzardo was acquired in the 2017 trade that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington. His profile as a polished performer has the A’s brass excited to see more after the 22-year old made just six appearances at the big league level in 2019 while battling injuries. In 43 minor league starts, Luzardo won 14 times compiling a 2.53 ERA. He also appeared in the 2019 Wild Card Game, throwing three innings, allowing just one hit, all while the A’s failed to rally from a five-run deficit.

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