A’s Thrilled To Be Able To Grab Puk

OAKLAND—When A.J. Puk abandoned football his junior year in high school, it caused a few ripples, both around Cedar Rapids, and in his family.

Puk won the starting varsity quarterback job his sophomore year at Washington High in that Iowa city, and now he was giving up the sport. Not only that, he was the descendant of a legendary family from the 1980s. The four Puk brothers from Cedar Rapids were a national figures three decades ago. David and Steven played for Minnesota, J.J. became a star at Iowa and Kevin came West to Stanford. All four brothers had played for Washington High.

Now A.J., the son of David Puk, had forsaken the family legacy to focus all his attention on a different sport.

A half-decade later, he had no regrets about his big decision. On Thursday night, the Athletics made Puk the sixth overall pick in the MLB Draft.

Even earlier in on draft day, some projections speculated that Puk could be the first selection in one of the craziest and most unpredictable drafts in recent history. Oakland never expected the chance at Puk, and did not talk to him before the draft. It was a shock to the A’s that he was available.

“I probably did a little jig,” scouting director Eric Kubota said. “We were pretty happy.”

Kubota added, “We were very surprised. We started hearing (Thursday) morning that he was sliding for some reason. At no point during the spring did we think we would have a chance at him.”

Puk had been outstanding his sophomore season at Florida, going 9-4, 3.81, with 104 strikeouts in 78 innings. His junior year would be a different story. He is 2-3, 3.21 with 95 strikeouts in 70 innings. After dealing with back spasms, he has had his innings limited through the remainder of the season.

“The college season has been going pretty well. I’ve had some really good outings, and some not so good outings,” the laconic Puk said during the A’s conference call. As to the back spasms, “They weren’t too serious at all.”

Puk provides the A’s with one of their most exciting prospects of the generation. He is a projectable, high-ceiling lefthander that some scouts believe could become a top-of-the-rotation starter. His fastball tops out at 98 mph and pitches at 94. His slider is considered above average, and his change is a developing pitch. Puk says he worked on the change during the spring, then rarely used it during the season.

“Hitters, I know, can catch up to the velocity,” Puk said. “Moving on, I know the change can be important, and I want to get that going.”

He expects that improving his changeup will be his No. 1 goal when he signs with the A’s.

“We think his change is better (than most scouts evaluate it),” Kubota said. “It’s probably as much as anything just consistency of command. That’s one of the biggest things we’ll have to work on.”

At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, Puk is a big-bodied pitcher with a power arm. Traditionally, there is a belief that tall pitchers need more time to develop their mechanics and consistency. Puk has had command issues, at times, this year.

“He just has a huge upside,” Kubota said. “He’s a really big lefthander with really good stuff. We think it’s a matter of repetition and consistency, and that will get his command on par with his stuff.”

He grew up in football-mad Cedar Rapids, as part of that legendary football family. When he made his critical decision after his sophomore season, it was because he had a chance to play for a baseball travel team that would provide more exposure to college and professional scouts. He made the decision to attend Florida, and he dropped was picked in the 35th round after his senior year at Washington. He said he improved his mechanics and learned a two-seam fastball at Florida.

Three years later, he became the A’s top pick. “I’m really excited,” he said. “All my friends and family are here. It’s a great experience.”

His former Florida teammate Richie Martin texted him almost immediately after the selection, congratulating Puk. Martin was the A’s top pick last season.

This was a draft that gave the A’s much to dream about. They followed Puk’s selection by drafting righthander Daulton Jefferies from Cal and righthander Logan Shore, Puk’s teammate at Florida. All three pitchers have significant upsides and the potential to become a force in the future. That is the magic of the draft: to create a dream.


• Kubota was ecstatic to have Jefferies fall to them at No. 37. He said the A’s had considered Jefferies for the No. 6 pick early in the spring before a shoulder injury that shortened his college season. Kubota said that he is confident with continued rehabilitation Jefferies can return to the form that made him dominate in college. Kubota said the A’s rank Jefferies’ fastball, slider and change as all plus pitches.

• Shore served as Florida’s Friday pitcher, while Puk took the ball on Saturdays. Shore lacks the dominant, plus stuff, but he uses his skills to great success. “He can really pitch,” Kubota said. “He’s extremely competitive. He very advanced as far as using what he has. It’s not a sexy look, but it gets the job done.” Shore pitches in the high 80s, using a sinking fastball and moving the ball around. However, Kubota says he has seen him hit 94. “He’s a really advanced pitcher and a great competitor.”

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