by Charlie O. Mallonee
Every team in baseball wants a tall, strong, left-handed pitcher that can throw hard and be the number one man in the rotation. The Oakland Athletics may have found that player in the 2016 MLB Draft.
With their number one pick (sixth overall), the A’s selected A.J. Puk – a 6-foot-7, 220 pound, left-handed pitcher out of the University of Florida. Richie Martin – Puk’s teammate at Florida – was the A’s number one draft pick in 2015. Martin is currently playing shortstop for the Stockton Ports of the California League.
The A’s 2016 second-round pick (47th overall) – right-handed pitcher Logan Shore – was also a teammate of Puk at Florida and the two are currently are teammates at short-season Class A Vermont.
Puk was considered to be a possible number one overall selection before the actual draft. Some inconsistency on the mound during his junior year along with some problems with back spasms caused him to drop down in the draft. Those problems did not deter the Athletics who did not hesitate to take Puk with the number six pick.
The fastball is Puk’s best pitch. It is rated well above above average and he throws it 96-97 mph regularly. He also has a plus slider that he delivers at 88-90 mph. Some within the A’s organization have referred to his slider as disappearing much like the slider thrown by Dave Righetti in his Yankee days – which is high praise. Puk is also rated high because he can maintain his velocity deep into games.
Puk’s third pitch is the change-up and it is still in the development stage. Scouts feel it should be major league ready soon. His control and consistency also needs improvement but that is why he is in the minor leagues. Given the chance to develop, Puk should become an impact starter for the Athletics.
Puk is currently pitching for the Vermont Lake Monsters of the short-season Class A New York-Penn League. He has a record of 0-2 in seven starts with an ERA of 2.70. In 20.0 innings pitched, Puk has given up 11 runs (6 earned) off 13 hits. He has walked six and struck out 27 batters. The big left-hander has a batting average against of .171 and a WHIP of just 0.95.
In his last start, Puk worked 3.2 innings. He gave up no runs on just one hit. Puk walked two and struck out eight batters. The only downside he had in the game was his high pitch count of 67 (43 strikes) which is probably why he was pulled from the game.
The current estimate is that fans could see Puk in a green and gold uniform sometime in the 2018 season which would mean he would progress through the farm system very quickly.