2016 Draft Profile: A.J. Puk

School: University of Florida; Class: Junior

Position: LHP; B/T: L/L

Height: 6-7; Weight: 230

Previously Drafted: Detroit Tigers, 35th round, 2013

 

Background:  Hailing from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the lanky 6-foot-7, 230-pound southpaw opened up his collegiate career as a bit of long-man/swing-man for Florida. He made 19 appearances, seven of which were starts, while fanning 46 in 42 innings of work. In one of his more impressive games that season Puk tallied five punch outs in five innings (with one earned run) to earn the clinching win in the SEC Championship game against Tennessee.

As typically done with promising freshman swing-men, Puk made the transition into a fulltime starting pitcher the following year, 2015, as he set career bests in innings (78.0), strikeouts (104), strikeout rate (12.0), WHIP (1.21), hits allowed (6.81), and HR/9 (0.92) as he finished with the second most wins on the team (nine). He was named on the SEC All-Tournament Team, NCAA Gainesville Regional Tournament Team, and tossed another 12.0 for Team USA during the summer (9-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio).

This season – as of May 9th – Puk has continued to miss a helluva lot of bats: he’s fanned 71 in just 50.1 innings; his strikeout rate, 12.45 K/9, ranks seventh in the nation and only one other arm from a prominent collegiate program, North Carolina’s J.B. Bukauskas, has bested that mark.

For his career, Puk’s sporting an impressive 219-to-78 strikeout-to-walk with a 3.46 ERA in his first 169 innings of work.

 

Projection: Fun Fact: Between 2011 and 2015 there have been only seven southpaws who have averaged 12 K/9 in more than 50 innings, three of which were high round draft picks: Carlos Rodon, Danny Hultzen, and Jacob Lindgren. Puk is on pace to do a second time in 2016.

So here’s a quote from Richie Martin, Puk’s former teammate and 2015 first round pick, courtesy of Baseball America: “He was throwing 96 to – I think he hit a 99 today.” Needless to say, the fastball velocity is at a premium – and that’s before his handedness is factored in.

Puk’s always missed an above-average amount of bats during his three-year career, fanning nearly 12 hitters every nine innings with the Gators and another nine (in 12 innings) with Team USA. The problem, however, is his lack of control/command – which hasn’t hurt terribly against much inferior competition.

In three years the big lefty has averaged no fewer than 4.0 walks every nine innings and his walk rate actually took a large step backward in 2016 (4.47 BB/9). Puk’s also been a bit homer-prone as he’s coughed up 18 dingers in just 169 career innings – or about 0.96 HR/9. And, finally, another concern: the data’s rather limited as he’s thrown no more than 78.0 innings at any point in a season.

The quick – and wrong – comparison would be to tie Puk to Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale: both are hard-throwing, lanky lefties. Except that Sale showcased far better control/command. Instead, think of Puk as a similar pitcher to Andrew Miller. Consider the following:

Player IP ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Andrew Miller 309.0 2.77 9.47 4.08 0.38
A.J. Puk 169.0 3.46 11.66 4.15 0.96

He has front-of-the-rotation caliber potential, but his control/command will likely force him down a notch or two.

 

Ceiling:  3.0- to 3.5-win player

Floor:  1.5-win player

Risk:  Moderate to High

Grade: First Round, Top 10

 

 



About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.