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A's Top Prospects Make Their Marks In AL Playoff Chase

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A.J. Puk (Photo by Cody Glenn/Getty Images)

ANAHEIM — Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk and Sean Murphy began the season as the Athletics’ top three prospects.

They’re ending it as three key pieces of the A’s playoff push.

Luzardo, Puk and Murphy ascended from Triple-A Las Vegas to Oakland within three weeks of each other in late August and early September. In a short time, they’ve already proven their value.

Murphy, 24, has taken over as A’s primary catcher in the critical final weeks of the season. Puk, 24, and Luzardo, 22, have become dynamic lefthanded weapons out of the bullpen.

The A’s are a half-game up in the race for the American League’s top wild card spot. Murphy, in the minors less than a month ago, is a shoo-in for the postseason roster if they hold on. Puk and Luzardo have made compelling cases as well, despite throwing less than 20 innings combined.

"Absolutely, yes,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, when asked if Puk and Luzardo are in postseason roster consideration. "They have definitely shown that they’re not afraid of the moment. Their stuff is going to play anywhere. As long as they’re comfortable, and we’re trying to get them both comfortable, which they both look to be, they’re talented guys that you want to have on your roster at any point in time in the year.”

The A’s prospects reinforcements came at the right time. Before Murphy made his debut Sept. 4, the A’s had used five different catchers and received some of the worst production from the position in the majors.

Murphy promptly delivered nine extra-base hits in his first 16 games and owns 1.006 OPS. Equally impressive, and just as important, is how quickly he has acclimated defensively to a veteran-heavy pitching staff.

"I like Sean just because he’s not afraid to learn,” A’s closer Liam Hendriks said. "He came out and was asking us how we pitched and what we go with. . . . Just being able to throw your stuff without having to shake off all the time is a big deal. He’s come up and done well and been willing to learn, which is the biggest thing.”

Said Murphy: "We don’t have the luxury of going in and messing up and trying to get our feet wet and stuff like that. We have to make sure we’re prepared. Especially for me, we have veteran starters and veteran pitchers and I have to be on the same page as them. It’s difficult, but it also makes you better.”

Luzardo and Puk, the Nos. 9 and 25 prospects on BA's Top 100 Prospects list, respectively, joined a bullpen that leads the majors in blown saves. Immediately, they've been thrust into pressure situations.

Puk’s debut came with the A’s nursing a two-run lead in the eighth inning against the Yankees. In three of his last four appearances, he’s entered with the score separated by three or fewer runs.

Luzardo, meanwhile, was entrusted with a lead in three of his first four career appearances. In the other, he was charged with keeping a one-run deficit from ballooning.

"We got thrown right into the fire,” Puk said. "It’s great. This is a great learning experience so the next time you get thrown into the situation, it’s not too bad.”

The prospects’ talent, and composure, has drawn the admiration of the A’s veterans.

"They’re playing great,” shortstop Marcus Semien said. "I think the kids nowadays are less nervous than when I was coming up. The kids are getting better, and they performed well in Triple-A. When you perform well in the minor leagues and you come up here to a good team that’s playing well, I think that helps you fit in a little better.”

Fellow prospects Sheldon Neuse and Seth Brown have also aided the offense since coming up from Triple-A. Neuse, 24, is batting .271 and has drawn the start at second base in five of the A’s last six games. Brown, 27, has hit .328 with 10 extra-base hits in 22 games to help buoy the A’s outfield.

In the heat of the playoff chase, with every out and every win critical, the A’s prospect callups have been poised and productive, en masse.

"They’ve been big for us, all of them,” Melvin said. "We’re not afraid to give younger players an opportunity in this organization. They know that in our organization, and there’s some incentive to get here. That’s the way it’s been for years. We give younger players, as long as the perform, an opportunity.”

So far, Luzardo, Puk and Murphy have taken that opportunity and run with it.

If the A’s makes the playoffs, the players from the top of their farm system will have played a significant role in pushing the team across the finish line.

"Having the pressure and expectations of a pennant race, it’s fun,” Murphy said, "but it also requires more.”

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