It's been nearly a month since the Aviators' inaugural season ended with a heartbreaking Pacific Coast League playoff loss to the eventual Triple-A champion Sacramento River Cats. But while Las Vegas Ballpark was silent for most of September, several players who spent much of the 2019 season in Las Vegas
It's been nearly a month since the Aviators' inaugural season ended with a heartbreaking Pacific Coast League playoff loss to the eventual Triple-A champion Sacramento River Cats. But while Las Vegas Ballpark was silent for most of September, several players who spent much of the 2019 season in Las Vegas were making some noise in the big leagues.
One day after getting eliminated by Sacramento in the deciding game of a best-of-5 series, two Aviators pitchers - Daniel Mengden and Jesus Luzardo - were promoted to the parent Oakland A's. That quartet joined several ex-Las Vegas teammates who had been called up to Oakland in the previous two weeks: infielders Franklin Barreto, Seth Brown and Sheldon Neuse; catcher Sean Murphy; and pitchers Paul Blackburn, Sean Manaea, A.J. Puk and J.B. Wendelken.
Additionally, infielder Corban Joseph and outfielder Nick Martini - both of whom spent most of 2019 with the Aviators, were promoted to the A's and subsequently released - landed on big-league rosters (Joseph with both the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates, and Martini with the San Diego Padres).
Throw in outfielder Skye Bolt's final-weekend callup to Oakland, and a total of 13 players who spent the bulk of the summer in Aviators uniforms finished the regular season in the major leagues. And at least six of those players who helped the A's reach the playoffs for the second straight year-Brown, Neuse, Murphy, Luzardo, Manaea and Puk-are expected to make Oakland's 25-man postseason roster.
Here's a look at the big-league performances of all the Aviators who earned late-season callups:
- After smashing 38 home runs (a career-high that would end up one homer short of leading the PCL) and driving in 104 runs, Brown was rewarded with his first major-league promotion on August 26. When he joined the A's for a series in Kansas City, the first baseman/outfielder continued to rake, hitting safely in eight of his first 10 games while amassing a .417 batting average and a 1.073 OPS. Playing mostly in left field or serving as the designated hitter, Brown appeared in 26 games and hit .293 with eight doubles, two triples, 11 runs scored and 13 RBIs.
Although the 27-year-old Oregon native failed to collect his first major-league homer, he made significant contributions as the A's successfully claimed the No. 1 wild card in the American League.
- Three days after Brown received word that he was heading to The Show for the first time, Neuse got the same call after producing a .317 batting average with 27 homers, 31 doubles, 102 RBI and 99 runs for Las Vegas. Although his impact wasn't as immediate as Brown's, the former Aviators' third baseman got rolling when the calendar flipped to September.
After hitting safely in three straight games from September 1-5, Neuse caught fire during a two-game stretch in Texas on September 13-14, going 6-for-9 with three RBI. Playing mostly second base, the 24-year-old appeared in 25 games with Oakland and went 14-for-56 (.250) with three doubles, three runs and seven RBI.
- Murphy was among three players whom the A's plucked from Las Vegas when major-league rosters expanded September 1, and he promptly showed why he's been one of Oakland's most-revered prospects. Murphy's first big-league hit was a home run in his first game against the Los Angeles Angels on September 4, kicking off a nine-game stretch through September 16 in which he went 12-for-29 (.414) with four homers, five doubles, 11 runs and eight RBI. That includes two memorable games in Houston on September 10-11, when Murphy hit three homers against the eventual AL West champs to pace the A's to a pair of victories by the combined score of 26-10.
Murphy, whose season in Las Vegas was limited to 31 games because of knee injuries, cooled off after his hot start with Oakland but still hit .245 with those four homers and eight RBI, to go along with five doubles and 14 runs, while also playing excellent defense.
- After suffering a shoulder injury late in spring training, Luzardo's 2019 season was delayed nearly three months. When the 21-year-old southpaw finally arrived in Las Vegas on June 22, he did so with much hype as not only Oakland's top prospect but the No. 1-ranked left-handed pitching prospect in all of baseball.
In seven regular-season starts with the Aviators, Luzardo showed why the hype was justified. Although he went just 1-1, he posted a 3.19 ERA in the hitter-friendly PCL while compiling a 34-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 31 innings. Most impressively, Luzardo displayed his high pitching IQ, complementing a live fastball that at times touched triple digits on the radar gun with devastating breaking pitches.
After Luzardo led the Aviators to a Game 3 victory over Sacramento at Las Vegas Ballpark, the A's promoted their prized prospect, put him in their bullpen and watched him shine: In six appearances spanning 12 innings, Luzardo allowed just two runs (1.50 ERA) on five hits and three walks while striking out 16. He also earned his first two big-league saves.
- Manaea arrived in Las Vegas on July 24 on a rehab assignment following arthroscopic shoulder surgery on his left shoulder. The southpaw was electric in five starts with the Aviators, going 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA and 43 strikeouts (vs. six walks) in 28 innings. The A's activated Manaea on September 1, and he was brilliant in five starts down the stretch, going 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP and 30 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings.
- A few days before Manaea began his rehab assignment in Las Vegas, Puk did the same as he continued to work his way back from elbow surgery. The flame-throwing lefty made nine relief appearances for the Aviators, going 4-1 with a 4.91 ERA, leading to his promotion to Oakland on August 20. With the A's, Puk appeared in 10 games, going 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings.
- Mengden was on the Oakland-to-Las Vegas shuttle throughout the 2019 season, making 14 appearances (11 starts, including Game 1 of the playoffs) for the Aviators and 13 appearances (nine starts) in three separate stints with the A's. After his final promotion on September 9, Mengden made just two relief appearances, allowing two runs on five hits in four innings while earning a save. For the season, Mengden was 5-2 with a 4.83 ERA for Oakland and 4-3 with a 4.22 ERA for Las Vegas.
- Like Mengden, Wendelken bounced between Oakland and Las Vegas in 2019. The right-hander was 6-3 with a 5.59 ERA in 30 appearances (one start) with the Aviators and 3-1 with a 3.58 ERA in 27 relief appearances with the A's. After getting the final three outs in Las Vegas' 9-3 victory in Sacramento in Game 1 of the playoffs on September 4, Wendelken was brought back to Oakland, where he went 2-0 and allowed just one hit and two walks in five scoreless relief appearances across six innings.
- Blackburn not only was the Aviators' ace in 2019, he was one of the top pitchers in the entire PCL, going 11-3 with a 4.34 ERA in 24 games (22 starts) while also earning a spot on the PCL All-Star team. Although he was rewarded for his efforts with a September 1 callup to the A's, he made just three relief appearances, going 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA.
- Barreto got off to a miserable start with the Aviators, caught fire in late May and had a torrid June, so much so that he was named PCL Player of the Month and earned a June 30 promotion to Oakland. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old Venezuelan struggled during a monthlong stint with the A's and was sent back to Las Vegas. After getting recalled on September 1, Barreto once again slumped in limited action, going 2-for-10 in six games. His numbers with Oakland (.123 batting average, two homers, five RBI) were in sharp contrast to his production with Las Vegas, where he hit .295 with 19 homers and 65 RBI in 98 games.
- The A's added Bolt to their roster for their season-ending series in Seattle, and he started the regular-season finale, going 0-for-3. Including two previous trips to Oakland in May, Bolt appeared in five big-league games and went 1-for-10 with a walk. However, he had a solid season with the Aviators (.269, 11 HR, 61 RBI, 57 runs) and hit three home runs in the playoffs.
- Joseph was clearly the Aviators' best pure hitter in 2019 (and one of the best in the entire PCL), batting .371 with 13 homers, 63 runs, 73 RBI, 35 doubles and four triples in 97 games. Those numbers earned Joseph a promotion to Oakland on August 14, but after a quick start, the second baseman slumped and was released. He was then claimed by the Giants and played eight games with San Francisco before getting released and picked up by Pittsburgh, where he finished the season. In all, Joseph appeared in 28 big-league games and went 10-for-64 (.191) with a home run, three doubles and seven RBI.
- Martini missed the first month of the season while recovering from a knee injury but ended up being a solid contributor for the Aviators, batting .328 with eight homers, 18 doubles, 57 runs, 42 RBI and 49 walks in 70 games. Although he struggled in two brief stints with the A's and was released, Martini was claimed by the Padres on August 29 and played regularly down the stretch. In 29 games with San Diego, he went 20-for-82 (.244) with four doubles, one triple, seven runs and five RBI.