Athletics

Baseball America releases new top 10 A's prospects for 2020 MLB season

Baseball America releases new top 10 A's prospects for 2020 MLB season

The A's top three prospects virtually are set in stone. Wherever you look, you likely will see the same three names in the same order: Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk and Sean Murphy. 

That's a pretty talented trio right there. It's the same top three that led off Baseball America's list of top A's prospects going into the 2019 season. The same goes for 2020

Luzardo and Puk are regarded as two of the best left-handed pitching prospects in all of baseball. With a high-90s fastball and nasty changeup, Luzardo has all the ingredients to one day be a perennial Cy Young candidate. Puk's fastball-slider combination has him right up there with Luzardo, too. 

Murphy is expected to make a big impact on the A's this upcoming season, and the catcher is regarded as one of the best defensive prospects in the game. The 25-year-old made his MLB debut last year and hit four homers in limited time, too. 

The real change for the A's, however, is at No. 4. Going into last season, Baseball America had a Heisman Trophy winner as Oakland's fourth-best prospect. That's right, we're talking about Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyle Murray. 

While Murray claims he still believes he can play both sports in a calendar year, and the A's still own his baseball rights, it's highly unlikely the elusive QB ever wears an A's jersey. So, who's the A's new No. 4 prospect? Cal product Daulton Jefferies made a huge leap in the rankings. 

Jefferies, 24, entered 2019 as the A's No. 18 prospect on Baseball America's top-30 team rankings. The low ranking wasn't due to his talent, though. It was all because of injury risks. Jefferies missed a chunk of his junior year at Cal with a shoulder injury and then had Tommy John surgery in late April 2017. 

Prior to the 2019 season, Jefferies had only pitched 20 1/3 innings since being drafted by the A's with the 37th pick overall in 2016. He was healthy last year and showed his potential that always has intrigued front offices. The 6-foot right-hander went 2-2 with a 3.42 ERA and had 93 strikeouts to only five walks in 79 innings pitched between Advanced Class A and Double-A. 

[RELATED: A's Reed hopes to reunite with Florida teammate Puk in '20]

Jefferies is expected to start the season in Triple-A Las Vegas. He throws everything for strikes and sits in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball. The A's will be safe with his workload, but don't be surprised if the former Cal Bear makes it to Oakland this season. 

There's no doubt the A's have one of the best young trios in Luzardo, Puk and Murphy. Don't forget about Daulton, though -- even if he does spell his name wrong.

What makes Matt Chapman is so confident in self, A's for 2020 season

What makes Matt Chapman is so confident in self, A's for 2020 season

OAKLAND -- There was a sense of confidence among A's players and manager Bob Melvin as they trickled into media day.

BoMel said it was the most excited he's been about the team since he's been with the A's, and it's no different for two-time Platinum Glove Award winner Matt Chapman, but he had to embrace the tough ending to 2019, first.

"We were really sad, and then for a while, it was pretty quiet," Chapman told NBC Sports California at the end of January. "But then, we all kind of turned the page a little bit and started appreciating everything accomplished -- and we were getting excited for next year."

Chappy made it clear the one-and-done losses the team faced over the past two seasons were not going to be a trend. There would not be a repeat of that in 2020, where the clubhouse filled up with packing boxes as the opposing team celebrated with champagne-soaked excitement.

"We're going to take it to the next level," he said. 

And it'll begin with the young arms, he went on.

"I think it starts with all of our young pitching that is getting more mature."

Top left-handed pitching prospects A.J. Puk and Jesús Luzardo will be a part of that possible starting rotation this upcoming season.

Luzardo, although a small sample size, hosted a 1.50 ERA and 0.667 WHIP in six games and 46 batters faced in 2019. Puk, who also made his highly-anticipated MLB debut last season, came out of the bullpen and in 11 1/3 innings boasted a 3.18 ERA with 13 strikeouts facing 47 batters.

Oakland will also get a full season of Frankie Montas who missed a chunk of time in 2019 after violating MLB's Joint Drug Agreement testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Veteran Mike Fiers and Sean Manaea are set to join the starting squad as well.

"It's like the first time we've had a set rotation, and it's guys we really trust, guys that have been tested," Chapman said. "We've had rotations, but we've always had guys go down, or this or that, it's like -- we have a five-man rotation with [Chris] Bassitt in there as well as a sixth, or a bullpen guy, whatever we need."

"They all have insane stuff," Chapman added. 

Chapman included the defensive and offensive game as two additional things for the team to have confidence in.

"Our pitching is only getting better, and I think our hitters are only going to get more polished, we're just going to be more mature -- we have more experience," he said. "The more at-bats you can give those guys, the better. The bullpen is only going to get better."

[RELATED: Fiers feels 'ahead of schedule,' despite distractions

"I think we're just a really, really good young, well-rounded team."

It was also something new and exciting for Chappy to be able to look around the clubhouse and recognize most of the players this time around, that'll help.

"I just have the confidence in our whole team -- we know what to expect," Chapman said. "Instead of starting from scratch, we can kind of just build on what we have, the momentum."

Mike Fiers already 'ahead of schedule' preparing for crucial A's season

Mike Fiers already 'ahead of schedule' preparing for crucial A's season

MESA, Ariz. -- A’s pitchers threw live batting practice on Tuesday morning, the first time they faced hitters this spring. It was clear right away that Mike Fiers was locked in.

That’s a bit unusual for the veteran starter, who takes time to build up toward regular-season form. Fiers normally is near ground zero at this point in the calendar.

Not so this year, and that’s no accident.

“It feels like I’m ahead of schedule,” Fiers said in a Tuesday afternoon conversation with NBC Sports California. “That’s a good feeling, especially for me. I try to time it up so that I’m ready at the end of March. Now I feel like, after pitching two innings (of live BP), getting up and sitting down again, my arm was healthy. That’s important. So is being locked in.

"I felt like, if I was facing another team, I would be pretty much ready to go. Now it’s about building stamina.”

Fiers cranked it up a bit earlier than usual to make up for what he considered a sloppy start to last season.

And, yeah. That’s the reason. This isn’t a direct response to the intense scrutiny Fiers has faced from misguided factions of the baseball industry and loyal-to-a-fault fans after blowing the whistle on Houston’s sign-stealing scandal. He has taken criticism since speaking on the record about the Astros' illegal activities, so much that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred vowed Tuesday to protect Fiers when he enters hostile environments.

Fiers isn’t out to fight flak with strong starts.

Getting ready earlier was a baseball decision. And, yes, this is a baseball story. Fiers only has been referenced lately in regard to the Astros and sign stealing, but let's not forget the man has a job to do. It doesn’t entail answering Astros questions every second of every day. He’s charged with winning games and leading an excellent starting rotation. He takes great pride in that. 

Fiers will be integral to the A’s success this season, and he feels an obligation to start the season stronger than he did in 2019.

“I felt like that first month of last year was rough for me,” Fiers said. “I would be really good and then really bad. I wasn’t consistent. I don’t think I was 100 percent, and that’s on me.”

[RELATED: Why Melvin has sky-high expectations for A's this season]

Fiers made up for it down the stretch, logging career-highs with 15 wins over 184.2 innings. His ERA stayed under 4.00 for a second straight season, leading an A’s rotation that rarely was at full strength.

The 34-year-old saw room for April improvement and wanted to enter early games that count in top form.

“There’s a timing aspect where you don’t want to start too soon but you don’t want to start so late that you’re not ready,” the right-hander said. “Last year I think I wasn’t ready physically and it took a bit longer to find my stride. Those games in April count. Not being ready cost me and this team.”

Fiers pointed to a poor 2019 Opening Day start in Japan as a major mistake. He went just three innings in an odd outing overseas during a two-game international series with the Seattle Mariners before returning to the Cactus League.

“When you feel like you’re being the eight ball, it’s tough,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “With the circumstance we had last year with Japan, playing two games and then returning to spring training mode, maybe you can feel a little rushed.”

Fiers responded well once the regular season began in earnest, without allowing a run over two straight starts. Then came a string of three outings with six earned runs allowed. The A’s lost four of his seven April starts, a sum that proved unacceptable.

“I wanted to start a bit earlier, so I was more ready to pitch in a big league game,” Fiers said. “I felt like that first month of last year was rough for me. I would be really good and then really bad. I wasn’t consistent. I don’t think I was 100 percent, and that’s on me.”

Fiers believes it is 100 percent on him to lead a talented, young rotation through what should be prosperous times.

“It puts pressure on me,” Fiers said. “I want to lead this pitching staff the right way and lead by example. We have a lot of guys here with electric stuff and I want to keep up. I have to go out there and battle, throw strikes and get guys out and go deep into games. Everybody has great stuff, even well above me. It’s about going out and competing and carrying the load.

"They still look to me and rely on me to lead the way. That’s a responsibility I welcome.”