When lefthander A.J. Puk came to the majors late last summer, he took on the American League with only half his arsenal of weapons.
During Puk’s recovery from Tommy John surgery, the Athletics limited him to using just his fastball and a slider/cutter.
“He did not have many setbacks during recovery,” minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said. “He only had one, which made us make sure he only threw two pitches.”
Puk came to Oakland in August to pitch 11.1 innings of relief during the club’s race to the wild card. He struck out 51 hitters in 36.2 innings in the majors and minors combined.
This spring, the 25-year-old Puk will be using his full four-pitch mix when he competes for a job in the rotation. And those pitches are high quality. His fastball averaged 97 mph in his debut and sometimes hits triple figures. It has both life and movement, and some scouts rank it as high as 70 on the 20-80 scale.
Patterson said Puk’s cutter/slider has “some teeth and a little tilt.” While some scouts grade the pitch as high as a 70, Patterson is more conservative in his assessment. He believes Puk’s changeup may become his best weapon and grades it as an above-average pitch.
The lefty also throws an occasional average curveball, just enough to let hitters know there is something else in his arsenal.
The four-pitch mix coming from Puk’s 6-foot-7 frame makes for an ominous combination.
The big question Puk faces will be control. That was improving as he moved through the minors after being the sixth overall pick in the 2016 draft out of Florida. When he first came to camp, A’s coaches began streamlining his delivery to improve the control.
“His front knee collapsed too much,” Patterson said. “He was right on board, doing the drills, and he was able to throw against is front leg. That helped his control.”
The A’s can see their future every time they watch Puk throw. They believe they have the makings of what could be a potent rotation, fronted by Puk and fellow rookie lefthander Jesus Luzardo.
— The A’s will move spring training to Las Vegas for two days, when they battle the Indians on Feb. 29 and March 1 at Las Vegas Ballpark. Vegas is the home of Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate.
— Righthander James Kaprielian is “feeling the best he ever has,” Patterson said. Kaprielian has been fighting off injuries, but Patterson believes the prospect is healthy and in a position to restart his career.