Athletics

Why A’s believe A.J. Puk, Jesus Luzardo no longer carry prospect label

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AP

Why A’s believe A.J. Puk, Jesus Luzardo no longer carry prospect label

MESA, Ariz. – Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk were promoted to the A’s in the middle of last season's pennant race and thrown immediately into the fire. These immensely talented young starting pitchers were sent to the bullpen for the stretch run, providing flashes of just how electric their stuff can be at the big league level.

Now we’ll see it over an extended stretch. The crown jewels of the A’s farm system are etched into a dynamic starting rotation also featuring Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas, one that’s as talented as any in baseball.

Pitching coach Scott Emerson doesn’t want his two newcomers differentiated from the pack. Puk and Luzardo long have been prized prospects. After last year’s cameo, he already considers them proven commodities.

“These guys are for real,” Emerson said. “The prospects are guys who you want to see in the big leagues. These guys are here. You should take the prospect label off both of them.”

It was clear last year their stuff plays. They are capable of getting outs in this rarified air.

Both guys are confident in their ability to perform but know they haven’t made it yet. That’s done by dominating over a long haul.

“I still have to earn respect,” Luzardo said. “I still have to prove myself. The end of last year was awesome and I’m glad I had some success, but I know I can do more and do better. That’s the goal this year.”

Some questions, however, already have been answered by last year’s cameos.

“It was really beneficial to get acclimated to the major league atmosphere during a playoff race,” Puk said. “You feel the pressure and you learn that you can execute under those circumstances, and that gives you confidence. Because of that, I feel ready to roll this year.”

[RELATED: A's 26-man roster projection: Rotation strong, second base a question]

Both guys benefit from the A’s depth and talent base, fitting into the rotation without having to be staff saviors. They also can rely on each other. Puk and Luzardo became friends during their time in the minors. They have become close dealing with successes, tough rehabs and ill-timed injury setbacks. They’re even living together during spring training.

That will help them get through this shared experience, which likely will include some road bumps. So will their mental makeup.

“They’re both cool, calm and collected,” Emerson said. “Nothing’s going to phase them. They’ll take some lumps just like everybody else. But the faster they fight back, the faster they’ll get comfortable at this level and let talent shine through. I have no doubt Jesus and A.J. are going to be excellent pitchers in this league.”

MLB rumors: A's expected to sign prospect Pedro Pineda for $4M or more

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AP

MLB rumors: A's expected to sign prospect Pedro Pineda for $4M or more

The A's aren't known for handing out large contracts and could have some tough free-agency decisions to make on Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson in the coming years.

But the A's are expected to make a splash on the international market. While MLB's season continues to be on hiatus with the coronavirus pandemic, the signing period still is scheduled to open on July 2 but the league does have the ability to delay the start date until Jan. 15, 2021. 

Baseball America's Ben Badler reported Monday that the A's are likely to hand out the largest J2 international contract this year. Oakland is expected to sign outfielder Pedro Pineda out of the Dominican Republic for more than $4 million. 

Pineda, 16, already is listed at 6-feet tall and 180 pounds. Here's how Badler describes Pineda's skill set: "He's a strong, athletic, physical center fielder with a loud tool set and a power/speed threat. He's a center fielder with excellent speed, a fast bat and the power potential to hit 25-plus home runs."

Here's a video of Pineda hitting and wearing A's gear last month.

Baseball America also has a longer video of Pineda launching homers.

[RELATED: Stewart addresses how short MLB season will affect players]

The A's signed shortstop Robert Pauson, MLB.com's No. 2 international prospect for 2019, to a $5.1 million contract last July. Pauson, 17, already is ranked as the A's No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline. He sits behind just Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk and Sean Murphy, all of whom made their big league debuts last year.

The A's can only hope Pineda has as much talent as Pauson. Both players should add to Oakland's top-heavy farm system.

Why Tony La Russa believes 1989 A's are best Bay Area team ever assembled

Why Tony La Russa believes 1989 A's are best Bay Area team ever assembled

The 1989 A’s were something special.

They were crowned World Series champions after defeating the Giants in four games that bookended the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake. Oakland also finished the regular season with a 99-63 record. And for Tony La Russa, the team’s manager at the time, he dubbed it the best Bay Area championship team ever.

“I’m a great believer in not disrespecting anybody, whether it’s a great 49er team, or the Warriors, or the Giants, but there isn’t any team that would be better than the ‘89 A’s,” La Russa said in a recent interview with 95.7 The Game. “Because they were absolutely complete in every way. Not just talented checking every box, but also in their attitude about teammates playing hard, playing tough.”

NBC Sports Bay Area asked fans last week to vote for the best Bay Area dynasty of all time. While the mid-1970s A's team was included, the late-1980s A's were not.

Still, the 1989 A's were pretty good.

Mark McGwire was 25 years old and hit a team-leading 33 home runs that season with infielder Carney Lansford hitting a .336/.398/.405 line with 185 hits. 

This team also had Dave Henderson and Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson roaming the outfield. Rickey would end the season leading the league with 77 swiped bags. World Series MVP Dave Stewart was a dominant starter. Out of the bullpen, Dennis Eckersley collected 33 saves on the season, boasting a 1.56 ERA.

“So, the ‘89 team had, not only was it a really good team, almost great, but once you added Rickey, then we became truly great, and we added Mike Moore, which added an outstanding starting pitcher to the rotation, but it had something else man, it had a fever going,” La Russa said.

La Russa named every aspect of the team that brought them back to the Fall Classic that season. The infield, the outfield, the pitching staff, and of course, the coaches.

[RELATED: Stew describes coronavirus scare]

The team also possessed the perfect balance of rookie and veterans to get to the big stage and win it all. 

“It was the perfect team,” he said.

Just about.