Yesterday our in-house scout, IJR, got his first look at a couple of baseball’s hottest pitching prospects: Jesus Luzardo (OAK) and Jonathan Hernandez (TEX). The game was in the AA Texas League, as the Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers) faced off against the Midland RockHounds (Athletics). Here are IJR’s notes from the game:
The ribeyes were prime, bordering the edge of rare and medium and leaking red juicy goodness; the beverages courtesy of a beer exchange with a Wisconsin co-worker; baked potatoes on the grill and sliced tomatoes from the farmer’s market. Started the afternoon with a Potosi Lemon Shandy, an overly lemony and sweet offering, almost to the point of cidery. This required quick consumption to get to the New Glarus Spotted Cow, a fine malty ale with a hint of lemon (unless that’s aftertaste from the Potosi). I wish the Spotted Cow was colder and I had more of them.
After a nap, I watched an interesting Sunday afternoon pitching matchup!
Jesus Luzardo (6’1″, 205 – LHP – 20 years old)
Jesus Luzardo – stands 6’1″ 205 – will be 20 years all season (21 in the fall). He was striking out over 11 per 9, walk rate 2.32 and barely over 3(.07) in 2017. His ERA was currently at 3.80 but FIP suggests better (3.13). He has climbed a few mid-season top 125 lists.
Luzardo started the game with a 3-0 count to the leadoff hitter, Michael O’Neill, working back to a 3-2 count before giving up a broken-bat jam shot, slow rolling six-hopper to short. After allowing O’Neill to steal second, Luzardo settled into strike-throwing mode, adding and subtracting with slurvy curves to both sides of the plate, backdooring righties or throwing it under their hands. A line drive and pop-out later and Luzardo was out of the inning.
After allowing another leadoff hit to Jurickson Profar in the 2nd, he promptly picked Profar, then showed off a quick pitch effort twice more in the inning. He continued throwing strikes and keeping the Frisco bats off balance. He nicked the leadoff hitter in the 3rd with a backfoot slider, at times losing his release point with the cross-body delivery and running up counts to Neil and De Leon.
Luzardo has moxie, a cagey left-hander willing to throw in on righties despite a lack of a big fastball, and a skill set perhaps too advanced for AA. He does everything well, with good control, both a change-up and curve that can grade plus more often than not. He did not allow a run in his five innings of work, but also only had three strikeouts on the day.
Luzardo reminds me of Jim Parque and Gio Gonzalez. It’s hard to project an arm that doesn’t currently possess a big fastball, which leaves little room for error and additional pressure on the rest of his game. He has starting pitcher rotation potential, though without adding a tick or two is more likely towards the back-end. Lefties with good control can and do play up, however, and it wouldn’t take much to move the grade higher. Still, there are concerns with a 55-60 FB and cross-body pitchers and what those right-handed splits might look like as he advances.
Jonathan Hernandez (6’2, 175 – RHP – 22 years old)
Jonathan Hernandez – nearly 22 years old – stands 6’2″ 175. Recently promoted to AA. Was striking out over 12 per 9 in his second go-around at high A. Dropped his walk rate from over 4 to 2.67. He’s a little stiff, not really getting his back to the hitter and using a lot of arm effort in his delivery. He struggled to repeat his delivery, issuing seven walks and five hits, one hit batsman, and only three strikeouts.
His fastball was up to 97, though generally sitting 93-94 with sinking action. His slider and curve offerings are over the top and the 12-6 variety, occasionally flashing plus. He was bailed out in the first three innings with double plays, before running into more serious trouble in the fourth.
The wheels began falling in the 4th, three walks, three wild pitches (four on the night), a duck snort to right and a passed ball brought in three runs. And then it happened, a one-hopper 5-4-3 triple play, inning over. After a 1,2,3 fifth, he came out for the sixth and was greeted by a monster shot by Sean Murphy and another walk, his seventh and final batter on the day.
It’s neither easy nor fair, to judge any pitcher solely on a single outing. Today he was struggling with his mechanics, both with repeatability and release point. He only has 9 AA innings at this point, and his BB and K rates have yet to find their level. Will look forward to the next game and continue monitoring his progress.
This might be the 2nd time I’ve seen Sean Murphy this year, but both times impressed. He’s a big target behind the plate and seems to move easily for his size. He looks athletic and has a gun for an arm. I think he’s homered both games I’ve seen this year, but repeating the league has seemed to pay off, and would not be surprised to see the next promotion soon.