A's top prospect Jesús Luzardo will not accompany the team on its season-opening trip to Japan, but that might actually signal good news for his chances to make the starting rotation.
The 21-year-old left-hander will stay in Arizona in order to continue his normal throwing schedule in minor league camp. Luzardo will also start one of the A's preseason games against the Giants later this month.
"We just didn't have the innings for him (in Japan)," A's manager Bob Melvin told MLB's Jane Lee and other reporters Sunday. "It doesn't mean he's being sent down. ... This is a guy we really like. We want to make sure he gets his innings in."
Luzardo's odds of making the rotation are also bolstered by the news that 26-year-old right-hander Daniel Mengden has received a fourth minor league option. That allows Oakland to send him to Triple-A without having to clear waivers, if they so choose.
On the field, Luzardo is arguably already the A's best starting pitcher. He has put together a magnificent spring, allowing just one earned run in 9 2/3 innings, with 15 strikeouts.
"He could be a front-of-the-rotation guy for a long time," A's catcher Nick Hundley told the Bay Area News Group's Martin Gallegos and other reporters. "His feel for pitching at that young age is impressive. He's the total package."
Luzardo is likely competing with Mengden, Frankie Montas, and Chris Bassitt for the final two spots in Oakland's rotation. Montas is out of options which, along with his stellar spring performance, makes him a solid bet to fill one of the two slots. Mengden and Bassitt both have one option remaining, giving Luzardo a realistic shot to make the big league squad.
"I feel like I've done a good job," Luzardo told Gallegos. "Fastball command is better every time I'm out there, and my body feels good. That's all I can ask for, just to stay healthy."
[RELATED: A's 25-man roster projection]
The only real reason to start Luzardo at Triple-A would be to make absolutely sure he's ready for the big leagues, both physically and mentally. The A's have reiterated their desire to proceed slowly and cautiously with their future ace.
Whether Luzardo begins the season in Oakland or Las Vegas, the talented youngster and his electric left arm will ultimately make an impact at some point in 2019. It's just a matter of when.