JUPITER, Fla. — As a 6-foot-6, 205-pound lefthander, A.J. Puk leaves little doubt that he has a future on the mound, but he's sticking with the Evoshield Canes during his shutdown period and showing off a sweet swing with pop that might have some scouts thinking twice.
Puk swings a quick bat from the left side and hit the ball with authority in a playoff game against the Diamond Devils at the World Wood Bat Championship. He went 2-for-3 with a single, double, RBI and two runs scored. He's now 3-for-11 in five games with two doubles and four RBIs.
"I really enjoy hitting and have always been a hitter," Puk said. "My pitching has started to pick up the last couple of years. In the beginning I thought I was going to be a hitter, but now I'm playing both ways and enjoying it while it lasts.
"At the next level, I'm probably a pitcher because I'm 6-foot-6, but I enjoy hitting and I'll try to do it as long as I can."
When he's on the mound, Puk has a fastball that can reach the low 90s. He's still raw as a pitcher, but his size, stuff and inexperience gives scouts a lot to dream on. Committed to Florida, Puk has a chance to be a two-way threat in college, much like Brian Johnson was the last the three years for the Gators. Puk has more upside on the pound, but could have a similarly potent bat. The program's success the last several years drew the big southpaw to Gainesville—as did the warmer weather. Puk goes to Washington High in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where high school baseball seasons are played in the summer and teams usually don't get outside until the end of May.
"I wanted to go somewhere south and get warm," Puk said. "I really like the program. They're in the College World Series every year, Coach (Kevin) O'Sullivan is a great coach, they have great facilities. They were No. 1 throughout the whole process.
"Playing for high school in the summer, it's tough to get on the travel ball circuit. The winter goes long so it's hard to get outside. It's hard for Iowa kids to get looks."
Puk played basketball until his sophomore year and football until he was a junior, but has put both sports aside to concentrate on baseball. He recently had a physical and doctors said he might have another inch or two in height to come.
A devoted Cardinals fan, Puk said he's not an Albert Pujols fan anymore and likes to emulate his pitching after Sean Marshall, a southpaw with tremendous size like Puk.
• Touki Toussaint, a 2014 from Coral Springs (Fla.) Charter School, may have created the most buzz for an underclassman at this year's event. He pitched the first day, against a loaded Marucci Elite lineup, and went three innings. He allowed one run on one hit and two walks while striking out nine. Three days later he faced another team with strong hitters in the Cardinals Scout Team and went three innings again. This time he allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits and five walks while striking out nine again. He sat 93-95 with his fastball, but it was the curveball that drew the most attention. It's not uncommon for scouts to react with amazement when a pitcher is dealing or flashes an outstanding pitch, but it's typically subtle and barely noticed by those behind the plate. In Toussaint's first inning Sunday night, he was facing shortstop Christian Arroyo with the bases loaded and two outs. He dropped a nasty, mid-70s curveball in that locked Arroyo up for strike three and an emphatic reaction resonated among the scouts behind the plate. He was relatively wild against the Cardinals, throwing just 51 percent of his pitches for strikes.
• Another 2014 took the hill Sunday in Bryce Montes De Oca, a 6-foot-7, 265-pound righty from Lawrence (Kan.) High. He was limited by a pitch count in his outing for the Midland Redskins, but flashed raw stuff. His fastball sat 93-95 mph, but he didn't show much in the way of secondary pitches and he struggled with his control, throwing 45 percent of his pitches for strikes.
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