Continuing onward with potential top-ten MLB Draft picks’ profiles, it’s time to take a look at the first pitcher that could go off the board. Before taking a look at high schooler Jason Groome, let’s take a look at what the best college arm has to offer.
A.J. Puk is the big left-hander that is the Saturday Stater for the No. 1-ranked Florida Gators. Where Puk may be second fiddle to Friday ace Logan Shore in Jacksonville, most experts have Puk going much earlier in June than his rotation-mate, possibly even first overall.
The 21-year-old lefty has a big frame, which helps him power his pitches over the plate. Standing at 6-foot-7 and weighing in at 230, Puk can bring the heat (being clocked as high as 99 miles per hour), but has the command and control woes some taller pitchers have based on mechanics.
Puk came to the Gators out of Washington High School in Iowa, where he was actually drafted in the 35th round by the Detroit Tigers in 2013. Inevitably joining UF (wouldn’t you?), Puk had a nice freshman year, which he would follow up with a brief stint in the Northwoods League over the summer. There, he earned top prospect honors by Perfect Game, despite only pitching 8.2 innings and having a frightening 10:11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. There is simply something about Puk that despite all his control issues caught people’s eye from the very start.
Last season was a tough one for Puk. It was his first season in which he was a full-time starter, splitting his freshman season between the bullpen and the rotation. He had nice numbers in his sophomore campaign, going 9-4 with a 3.81 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP. Puk struck out 104 over 78 innings, but walked 35, and a four walks-per-nine ratio is definitely alarming. So was Puk’s off-field behavior.
Puk and his somewhat infamous incident are not what is important, it is how he recovered. Puk seems to have grown from the lesson and has put up some of his best numbers since serving his brief suspension.
He had a great start against USF in the Regionals at the end of the season, going seven innings of one-walk, eight-strikeout, shutout ball. He got banged around in his next start against FSU, allowing four runs (one unearned) in just four innings. He again didn’t afford himself any favors by walking three.
This season has seen an improved Puk on the one hand, but more of the same on the other. He has lowered his ERA to 2.93 and WHIP to 1.17, both new career-bests. His walk rate, however, is nearly 4.5-per-nine, and despite an eye-popping 12.8 strikeout-per-nine, you have to at least be a bit concerned.
Aside from his height, Puk also battles with inconsistency. This is actually mildly promising, because inconsistency usually stems from mechanics and mechanics can be improved and coached at the next level.
He has a bit of a funny step, almost like a dance step before he pitches. Watch his back leg when the right leg steps back. It sort of buckles. He seems to have good extension and a quick release, but also throws across his body. That’s good for deception purposes, but many pitching coaches and scouts fear that may lead to injury. That’s little reason not to pursue Puk.
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