Coming into draft day, A.J. Puk was projected by many to go number one overall to the Philadelphia Phillies. Instead, he landed with the Oakland A’s at the sixth overall pick. Despite the slide, Puk is excited to potentially join the A’s organization.
“I came into the draft open-minded,” Puk said on a conference call shortly after he heard his name called. “You really don’t know about the draft. I was excited where I landed.”
Puk was surrounded by friends, family and his Florida Gators teammates when Commissioner Rob Manfred announced him as the A’s first selection. It didn’t take long for Puk to hear from a former Florida teammate, Richie Martin, who was the A’s top selection in 2015.
“He texted me right away,” Puk said. “I was really happy to hear from him and I can’t wait to get out there play with him again.”
Puk grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in a family filled with football players. His father and three uncles all played for Division I football programs. Puk played high school football for awhile – he was the varsity quarterback for his high school team as a sophomore – but when college baseball teams started scouting him heavily going into his junior year, he decided to focus solely on baseball.
In high school, Puk was a two-way player, and he had 23 at-bats for the Gators in 2015, hitting .261 with three doubles. However, even as far back as high school, Puk knew that it was his pitching arm that would give him a chance to reach the major leagues.
Pitching in the toughest conference in the NCAA, Puk has a career 3.49 ERA with 243 strike-outs in 188 innings. Command has been an issue for Puk at times, as he has walked 4.02 per nine innings for his career and has allowed 0.96 HR/9. Puk believes that his change-up – a pitch that he didn’t throw that often during the Gators’ regular season – will be a pitch that advances his game at the next level. The change-up is a point of emphasis in the A’s pitching program, so he will have plenty of opportunity to develop that pitch.
“Preseason I threw [the change-up] a lot in the fall and the early spring practices,” Puk said. “During the season, I was more fastball and slider. Moving on, I know the change-up is going to be really important and I’m looking forward to getting that going.”
Puk’s best two pitches are his fastball and his slider. He says that in his recent games, his fastball has ranged from 94-98 MPH. In an A's organization that doesn’t feature many pitchers with elite velocity, Puk will stand out.
Puk, who is 6’7’’, 240 pounds, says he models his game after a big bodied left-hander who grew up in the East Bay, C.C. Sabathia.
“He’s a big left-hander and I’ve always watched him pitch and thought maybe I could be him one day,” Puk said.
Puk grew up a St. Louis Cardinals’ fan and says his knowledge of the A’s as an organization doesn’t extend beyond watching the movie “Moneyball.” With former teammate Martin in the A’s organization, Puk will have plenty of information about the A’s at his disposal before he decides whether or not to sign. For now, Puk says his focus will be solely on his Gators’ team and their quest to take home a College World Series title.
“I’m always working to try to get more consistent and try to get better,” Puk said. “We have a chance now to get back to Omaha and win a national championship. That’s what we are focused on.”