After eight seasons in the minor leagues, including a mid-career position change to pitcher, Bay Area native Lucas Erceg is set to make his major league debut with the Oakland A’s.
The A’s on Friday announced that Erceg, 28, was joining the team in Houston for the start of a weekend series against the defending World Series champion Astros. The A’s needed another reliever because Zach Jackson went on the 15-day IL with a flexor strain in his right elbow. To make room for Erceg on the 40-man roster, the A’s designated right-hander Zach Neal for assignment.
The A’s just added Erceg to the organization on Wednesday night in a minor-league trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, and he had yet to appear in a game with the A’s Triple-A team in Las Vegas.
Erceg is an intriguing addition for the A’s. Erceg has a strong arm, he can hit nearly 100 MPH, but is relatively inexperienced as a professional pitcher, turning to the mound in 2021 after his ascent as a power-hitting third baseman stalled out at Triple-A.
Erceg, who was born in San Jose and attended Westmont High School in Campbell, made a splash in his first two seasons at Cal and was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2015. But he was ruled academically ineligible in 2016 and transferred to Menlo College. After hitting a program-record 20 home runs that season — as the team’s closer and third baseman — he was drafted by the Brewers in the second round.
Erceg hit the ground running as a pro, batting .327 with nine home runs and 51 RBIs in 68 total games between Rookie ball and Single-A. In 2018, Ecreg was rated as Milwaukee’s fourth-ranked prospect by MLB.com and he continued to show good power, reaching double-digits in home runs in three of his first four seasons. But he also struck out a lot — 356 times in 437 games as a hitter in the minors — and had a career on-base percentage of barely .300. He reached Triple-A in 2019 and hit 15 home runs, but batted just .219 with 102 strikeouts in 357 at-bats.
But a strong arm provided Erceg a second chance as a pitcher, and now, a path to the majors.
“I’ve always seen myself as a big-league hitter,” Erceg told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2022. “I’ve always thought of pitching as the backup plan; it was never really the reality. So, to have this actually be part of my resume or whatever you want to call it is beyond belief. It’s crazy where this game can take you, and I’m just glad that I’m able to throw the ball hard and be a competitor on the mound and that not a lot of guys can do it.
“So, I’m happy and grateful for that.”
Erceg was 3-1 in 13 appearances with Triple-A Nashville, but had a 6.46 ERA and had allowed 14 hits and walked 10 in 15 1/3 innings. He was averaging more than a strikeout per inning for the second straight season.
The right-hander joins a bullpen in dire need of a shot in the arm.
The A’s enter Friday’s game with a 10-35 record and the least productive bullpen in the majors. The A’s relievers’ combined ERA of 6.62 ERA is more than a run higher than the White So (5.54) or the highest in the majors. A’s relievers also have the lowest save percentage (30.8 percent, 4 for 13) and least saves, and have allowed 44.1 percent of their inherited runners to score, which is the fifth-worst in the majors.
Jackson had been one of the most dependable relievers, posting a 2.50 ERA in 19 appearances this season.