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Oakland A's Sleepers & Breakouts: Jesus Luzardo & Ramon Laureano On Path For Big Impact

SI Fantasy high-stakes guru Shawn Childs provides three sleepers and two breakouts from the Oakland Athletics that are all on the verge of contributing impact seasons.

Breakout: SP Jesus Luzardo

Luzardo pitched at almost every level in the minors over the previous three seasons.

In 2018, he started the year at High A and finished the year at AAA. Luzardo didn’t have any problem with AA (7-3 with a 2.52 ERA and 86 Ks over 78.2 innings). His stuff lost value at AAA (13 runs, 32 baserunners, and two home runs over 16 innings), but he did flash his upside over seven starts at AAA in 2019 (3.19 ERA and 34 Ks over 31 innings).

Luzardo started last year on the injured list with a strained rotator cuff in his left shoulder. His first appearance in the minors came on June 11th. After throwing the ball well for five games (2.79 ERA and 25 Ks over 19.1 innings), he landed back on IL for a month with a left lat strain.

Luzardo had one bad outing in his final six games in the minors (2.28 ERA and 32 Ks over 23.1 innings) before seeing 12 innings of action with the A’s (1.50 ERA and 16 Ks over 12 innings).

His AFB (97.2) was elite with success with all of his pitches (four-seam – .182 BAA, sinker – .077 BAA, changeup – .100 BAA, and curveball – .111 BAA).

He projects to be a ground ball pitcher with a favorable fly-ball rate. Shaping up to be a great arm, and the Oakland A's will ride him hard earlier in his career based on their team model.

His ADP moved to 101 in drafts after March 1st in 12-team leagues. With no innings limit and no negative injury news, Luzardo looks to be on a path for an impact season and likely rookie of the year candidate.

Breakout: OF Ramon Laureano

Laureano had a quiet start to the year in April and May (.259 with six HRs and 18 RBI over 205 at-bats). He helped push up fantasy teams in the standings over the next two months (.314 with 37 runs, 15 HRs, 40 RBI, and eight SBs over 175 at-bats).

A right shin injury led to six weeks on the injured list.

When Laureano returned in September, he hit .315 with three home runs and nine RBI over 54 at-bats.

His contact batting average (.402) was just over his 2018 levels in the minors (.415), and the majors (.425) with growth in his average hit rate (1.808). Laureano didn’t have a great approach at the plate (strikeout rate – 25.6 and walk rate – 5.6).

Over five seasons in the minors, he hit .271 with 45 home runs, 199 RBI, and 100 steals over 1,466 at-bats. His bat improved in 2019 at AAA (.297 with 44 runs, 14 HRs, 35 RBI, and 11 SBs over 246 at-bats).

His K rate (23.7) was lower in the minors with a much better walk rate (10.0). Laureano had an improved HR/FB rate (19.2) with a higher fly-ball rate (39.2).

His success last year projected over a full season would come to 100 runs, 30 home runs, 85 RBI, and 16 steals.

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He has an ADP of 79 as the 21st outfielder drafted.

In today’s fantasy environment, finding players with 20/20 skill sets is getting more challenging.

Laureano may get a chance to bat second if he finds his minor league approach. Potential 30/30 player, but I would draft him with the idea of a 20/20 floor with neutral value in the other three categories (.275 with 80 runs and 80 RBI).

Sleeper: SP Sean Manaea

Manaea suffered a left shoulder injury in August of 2018, which led to surgery a few weeks later. His minor league debut in 2019 didn’t come until July 8th.

After struggling in three of his first four games (9.95 ERA, 1.895 WHIP, and four HRs over 12.2 innings), he looked sharp in three starts at AAA (1.53 ERA and 28 Ks over 17.2 innings).

The A's brought him to the majors in September, and he dominated the whole month (4-0 with a 1.21 ERA and 30 Ks over 29.2 innings).

His walk rate (2.1) came in strong with a career-high in his strikeout rate (9.1). Manaea lost velocity on his fastball (90.2) and changeup (81.4), but all of his pitches graded as assets (four-seam – .191 BAA, slider – .192 BAA, and changeup – .125 BAA).

Overall, he has a small sample size of elite stats.

Over four years in the majors, Manaea has a 35-28 record with a 3.77 ERA and 402 strikeouts over 493.2 innings while never pitching over 161 innings.

I expect growth and some follow-through in 2020. Next step (if he played a full season): 15 wins with a 3.50 ERA and a career-high in strikeouts. His ADP (182) is in a buying range for me with the idea of him helping me control my WHIP.

Sleeper: SP A.J. Puk

The A's selected Puk at sixth overall in the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft. After posting a 4.03 ERA and 184 strikeouts over 124 innings at High A and AA in 2017, he blew out his left elbow in April of 2018, which led to TJ surgery.

Puk struggled over his first five games (six runs and 15 baserunners over 8.1 innings with 13 Ks) at High A and AA in 2019. He posted a 4.24 ERA and 25 Ks over 17 innings over his next 13 games before a late-August call-up.

With Oakland, Puk had a 3.18 ERA and 13 strikeouts over 11.1 innings.

His AFB (97.5) came in better than Jesus Luzardo while working with a slider (.214 BAA) as his second pitch. His changeup will be more in play as a starter, but it is trailing.

Puk has an explosive arm, but his walk rate (3.4 in the minors) sets the tone for his value early in his career.

I’m thinking of a Robby Ray type arm out of the gate, which means WHIP risk and lack of length in games. Wins may be an issue, but Puk should offer value in strikeouts.

With his arm trending toward the bullpen in March, Puk has an ADP of 246. If Oakland goes six deep in the starting rotation, his arm will have value if throwing strikes.

Deep Sleeper: SS Jorge Mateo

Mateo played much better in his second stint at AAA in 2019 (.289 with 19 HRs, 78 RBI, and 24 SBs over 532 at-bats).

Over eight seasons in the minors, he hit .267 with 52 home runs, 302 RBI, and 283 steals over 2,818 at-bats. Mateo has 59 triples and 193 stolen bases over his last four years.

His success as a base stealer (78.4) needs some work, and his approach (strikeout rate – 23.0 and walk rate – 7.3) does invite some risk early in his career.

His defense should be an edge, which is another reason to watch him this spring.

If given a chance to bet between Mateo or Franklin Barreto to start at second base for the A’s, I’d lean toward the player who hasn’t failed yet (Mateo).

Possible speed contributor at the very least and should be a reserve player in deep leagues at a minimum.

READ MORE: 2020 Oakland Athletics Fantasy Team Preview