Oakland Athletics vs. Texas Rangers (Mesa, AZ)

And we are back in Mesa! Really excited because my favorite pitching prospect from last year, lefty Jesus Luzardo is on the mound today for Oakland. As a Scout, it’s really important to check your bias at the door. One of my mantras is that you should really walk into the ballpark with zero preconceived notions and strive (as much as possible) to eliminate any bias from your evaluations. That’s one reason why I never really like to ask about players who I haven’t seen before and for the past 5 years I really shied away from reading Baseball America or MLB pipeline before seeing a new player (although I may check it afterwards because they do have good material). My goal is to approach the evaluation with as little information about the player as possible – meaning where they are drafted, what their statistics are, etc., should not effect my view of them. In this way, I am striving for the most unbiased evaluation that I can. However, once you’ve seen a player before, it becomes difficult to not let your previous view effect the new view, we are human after all, and therefore, seeing a player the following year, like now in Spring Training, I am bringing a certain amount of “history” to the evaluation. Luzardo is my top pitching prospect from last year and he has the stuff and pitchability to make any evaluator giddy about watching him, but I have to approach this view in Spring Training as fresh as possible because he may have changed, for better or for worse.

And so, after 2.2 innings of Luzardo (6 K’s, no hits, no runs) I can honestly say that he has improved, which is hard to do considering what I had previously seen (I graded him out as a future Ace last year). He came out throwing 96-98 in the 1st inning, sat 95 in the 2nd and 94 in his 3rd inning of work. His overall range was 93-98, which was up from last year when I saw him twice in June in AA and he was 89-96 and sat in the 92-94 range. His FB had heavy sink and occasionally some late arm side run. Due to his shorter frame and slot, the FB has a tendency to flatten out at times but there’s enough velo and deception that he can still get away with making a mistake in the middle of the plate. Even more impressive was his change-up (85-87 mph) that falls off the table at times and he can really sell it, getting plenty of swings and misses from RHH. He also featured an above average and projectable power slurve (somewhere in between a curve and slider) that he can add and subtract from, going as low as 82 and as high as 87. The slurve is really tough on LHH and has a tight rotation with sharp late break out of the zone at times while other times he will front-door a LHH throwing it with a bigger bend and a bit slower, dropping it in the zone for a strike. If that isn’t enough pure stuff already – he showed 6 command of all his stuff and he changes up his delivery, sometimes quick pitching/slide-stepping from the windup and the stretch to really mess with a batter’s timing (see video below).

To read a full report and grades of Jesus Luzardo – click this link: https://baseballspy.com/player/jesus-luzardo/ (in order to access this premium content, you just need to sign-up for free)

After Luzardo dominated and froze the Rangers line-up he gave way to some Major League relievers and starters. The middle frames were highlighted by Joakim Soria, who I had seen pitch a few days ago, and again baffled hitters with his new trickery, by changing slots on all his pitches. He mostly worked with a 91-93 FB that appeared quicker at the plate and then threw a CB from over the top and from low 3/4 at varied velocities, going from 69 MPH to 75 MPH. His CB appeared to be more of a floater with lots of movement and he both froze hitters for strikes and got some swings and misses with it. I’m really curious to see how this pitch will play once the regular season starts. He threw one split from over the top at 87 MPH. It will be important for him (and typically for pitchers who change their slots) to be able to throw all his pitch types from both of his slots so he doesn’t “tip off” the pitch to the hitter before he actually releases it.

Soria gave way to Daniel Mengden, another player I have evaluated and liked in the past. Mengden is a throwback type of pitcher, in the sense he utilizes an over the head pump during his delivery and will also vary his timing to the plate with various pauses before he goes into his actual delivery of the pitch. One of the things I’ve always liked about Mengden (and pro pitchers in general) is the ability to throw an array of different pitches to keep hitters guessing. It’s generally harder for pitchers to have good command of each additional offering they throw because it takes more reps and practice to master, but Mengden has had success at the big league level with 4 different pitches. Today, he was mostly shuffling between his FB (which ranged from 90-94 and sat 93 early and 92 by his 2nd inning of work), Slider and Change-up. It wasn’t until his third inning of work when busted out his big hump curve ball and also featured a 5th pitch I hadn’t seen much of previously, an 87-88 mph cutter. The ability to throw 5 different pitches, all from a range of 74-94 MPH and WITH a unique/funky delivery gives him all the ingredients for being a legit mid-rotation starter. The only thing that I can see really holding him back is what he struggled with today at times, just missing his spots and being up in the zone because he would rush through and rip his front-side open. Check out the 2 videos below, first where he’s trying to throw his off-speed and at foot strike when the ball is about behind his head, his front side is very open and the ball ends up sailing high, arm side.

In the next video, on his FB, the very next pitch he makes the adjustment and keeps his front shoulder on line a bit longer, allowing him to get his release out in front.

Timing is going to be everything for Mengden if he hopes to gain the consistency to make him a solid rotation option for the A’s.

To finish off the A’s pitchers was former Brewers big leaguer, LHP Wei-Chung Wang. Interesting guy here, he had been taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Brewers back in 2014 and stayed with the Major League team the entire year (as the Rule 5 draft stipulations enforce), however he didn’t pitch well and when I saw him in the minors the following year pitching at High-A Brevard County Manatees (which is no longer a team, by the way), he was good but still a long way from getting back to the bigs. When he finally did get called up again in 2017, he didn’t fare well either, and as it stands he has a lifetime E.R.A. of over 11 in 22 games at the highest level. Still, Wang is only 26 years old and in camp as a minor league free agent, and he showed the makings of a shrewd pick-up by the Athletics. He pitched the last inning by pounding the zone with a 90-92 FB that was always cutting and then complimented it with a solidly deceptive change-up from 81-83, showing good velo separation between the FB/CH yet no noticeable variance of his release point or arm speed between the two offerings. If this guy can pitch like that, he’s going to be able to contribute at the big league level effectively, especially being a left hander who can throw strikes with the requisite velo and off-speed for success.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t yet mentioned any hitters, that’s because up until the bottom of the 6th inning there was a combined 1 hit and zero runs between both sides. Texas countered with two veteran starting pitchers back-to-back to open the game, LHP Drew Smyly who has been injured the past couple of years but looked to be regaining the form that made him a very solid rotation piece for Detroit and then Tampa Bay before injuring his arm in the World Baseball Classic after signing with the Seattle Mariners 2 years ago. His FB sat 91 with solid sinking action, that almost appeared to disappear as it reached the plate. He kept the ball low and induced weak contact. He also featured a lot of cutters around 88 mph, not very big but just enough movement at the end to miss barrels. When he needed a punch-out he would go to his big 12-6 curveball (77-79 mph) that he would start above the zone and drop it in for a called strike, and also start it in the zone and make it drop beneath it for a swing and a miss. He was throwing it effectively to LHH and then backdoor to RHH as well. He flashed a change-up at 85-86 mph but only on occasion. Overall, he can still be a very productive back-end starter if the arm holds up. After Smyly, RHP Jason Hammel came in and just pounded the zone with a good moving FB. The velo was 91-93 but it played up due to the cut, run, and boring action at times. His quality FB movement and ability to throw strikes was really all he needed on this day because there wasn’t much off-speed to grade out.

Oakland went with most of their starting lineup (sans the injured Khris Davis) as it looks like they’re trying to get everyone at least 3 AB’s right now before they head to Japan in about 10 days to start the MLB season over there vs. Seattle. Just a few quick notes on some of the lineup that I’ve now seen for a 3rd time:

Matt Chapman – yes this guy has a gold glove but I really like his patience at the plate, his bat path and his strength. There’s some Josh Donaldson in there and at 25 years of age and 2 full big league seasons under his belt, I’m predicting he hits over 30 homers this year. Even though he hasn’t done much during the games this Spring, just the way he is tracking the ball this early in March is a very good sign and that is what I’m basing my prediction on.

Steven Piscotty – I like the bat speed, he has some holes and can be pitched too but if it’s over the plate he’s going to hit the ball hard somewhere.

Jurikson Profar – We already talked about him in a previous post but he had a hard base hit to RF from the left-hand side today on a hanging off-speed that knocked in some runs. He’s going to breakout this year if he stays healthy. The defense at 2B is more than fine.

Chad Pinder – Haven’t seen him in the field but this guy takes hacks. Not a bad dude to have off the bench for some offense.

Sean Murphy – Catching prospect who probably won’t start the year with the big league team, but he showed plus bat speed, turning around an inside FB and hooking it just foul. This guy is coming and will be a nice productive offensive catcher at his peak.

Dustin Fowler – Another guy we talked about in a previous post. He hammered a homer today and every time I’ve seen him this Spring he puts a nice swing on the ball.

From the Texas side, it was hard to get a feel for their hitters, most of whom I was seeing live for the first time. Luzardo and the pen had their day. Eli White started (who was acquired in the 3-team deal with Oakland and Tampa that netted Oakland Profar). While he looked a bit over-matched today, I do like the swing and his ability to play around the field should make him an intriguing building block for a young Texas team. Of course, as many teams do during Spring Training on the road, they didn’t bring that many of their regulars with them, so if you’re a Texas fan or looking for more info on the Rangers players’, I’m sorry – this is not your post (also it’s Taco Tuesday and I need to get over to Taquitos Jalisco here in Mesa, an under-the-radar, above average Taco joint.