OAKLAND - Jesús Luzardo was so dominant in his first full professional season, the A's had no choice but to keep promoting him.
Coming off Tommy John surgery, the then 20-year-old left-hander started the year at Class A Stockton. In three starts, he struck out 25 batters in 14 2/3 innings, allowing just two runs.
The A's quickly moved Luzardo to Double-A Midland, where he continued to overwhelm opposing batters, notching 86 punch-outs in 78 2/3 innings with a 2.29 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. He finished the season with four starts at Triple-A Nashville, where he faced his first struggles, allowing 13 runs in 16 innings, but still striking out 18.
Now 21, Luzardo is ranked as the number two pitching prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline behind Astros RHP Forrest Whitley. He will almost definitely make his Major League debut sometime next season and might even end up on the Opening Day roster.
[RELATED: Decisions on four veteran starters]
"I think Jesús is going to come into Spring Training and be a factor," said A's general manager David Forst. "I don't think we have to hide that. He had an incredible year. He's our top prospect. He's probably one of, if not the top left-handed pitching prospect in the game. So I expect he'll come into Spring Training and be a factor for us."
Added executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane: "He was a factor last year in Spring Training when he was like 20 years old."
He certainly was. Luzardo pitched six scoreless innings this past spring, allowing six hits with six strikeouts and a walk, and that was without a full season of professional baseball under his belt. Next year, at the age of 21, he figures to make a strong push to crack Oakland's starting rotation.
The A's acquired Luzardo from the Nationals in 2017 as part of the Sean Doolittle/Ryan Madson trade, a deal that also brought them All-Star closer Blake Treinen. Luzardo was born in Lima, Peru, but most of his family is from Venezuela. He moved to the United States as an infant and grew up in South Florida.
[RELATED: Five free agent options]
The Nationals selected Luzardo out of high school in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft -- he would have gone much higher had he not torn his ulnar collateral ligament, requiring Tommy John surgery in March of 2016.
Clearly, Luzardo came back at full strength last season. His fastball lived in the mid 90s, touching the high 90s at times, with excellent command on both sides of the plate. He also has an excellent changeup and solid curveball.
Luzardo is on the fast track to becoming a top of the rotation pitcher in Oakland for many years to come. The only question is how soon he gets his opportunity.