As of late last night, the Oakland A’s could never have imagined the first day of the 2016 MLB Draft working out as it did. But, by the morning, the A’s front office had started to hear rumors that left-hander A.J. Puk could be sliding out of the top two picks in the draft. Still, they were completely shocked when Puk’s name was on the board when it was the A’s turn to pick.
“At no point during the spring did we think we would have a chance to talk about him at the sixth pick,” A’s Scouting Director Eric Kubota said on a conference call after the A’s completed their first day of selections. “I probably did a little jig. We were really happy.”
The A’s ended up taking three college pitchers with their top three picks: Puk, Daulton Jefferies and Logan Shore. While starting pitching is an area of need for the A’s at the minor league level, Kubota says that there was no grand plan to take only pitching on day one of the draft.
“It wasn’t our intention going in [to take three pitchers], but the fact that these three specific pitchers were available, we were really excited,” Kubota said. “We had all of them evaluated at one time or another as potential first-round picks. For them to be there at those three picks for us, we think this is a potential big step forward with our pitching depth and we are excited to see how their careers take off from here.”
This year’s first round had several surprises, with Puk being one of several players who slid lower than their projected slots. Kubota wasn’t sure why Puk fell, but was content to be happy with the results.
“Teams were probably trying to maximize their pools at the top,” Kubota said. “I’m not really privy to what conversations were had, but we were completely happy that it worked to our advantage.”
Puk struggled with his command at times this season for Florida, but Kubota says that Puk’s stuff was as good in 2016 as it was during the second half of 2015, when he dominated the SEC and helped to lead the Gators to Omaha.
“There were just some stretches where he got into a few command ruts,” Kubota said. “There were a few physical things that held him back, as well. But the stuff was the same as what we had seen from him since last spring.
“Probably, as much as anything, it’s just consistency. Consistency of command. That’s probably the biggest thing that he will have to work on moving forward, but we think he can do it. We think it is just a matter of experience as much as anything else.”
Kubota raved about Puk’s upside.
“His strengths are his physicality – he’s 6’7’’, 220 pounds. He’s left-handed and throws up to 97. We’ve seen a sharp slider. We think his change-up is very workable,” Kubota said. “He has great stuff. It’s a big body to control, but we think that the delivery is there and repetition and consistency will get his command on par with his stuff.”
With their second pick, the A’s stayed local, taking right-hander Daulton Jefferies from Cal. Jefferies had top-half of the first-round talk earlier in the spring after he got off to a red-hot start for the Golden Bears. He fell from that ranking when he missed several weeks with a right shoulder injury. He made only eight starts for Cal this year, posting a 1.08 ERA in 50 innings. Jefferies struck-out 53 and walked only eight.
Kubota acknowledged that Jefferies wouldn’t be ready to pitch in games right away, but he says the A’s feel good about where Jefferies is at medically.
“We are very confident after some more rehab he will be 100%,” Kubota said. “We don’t necessarily think that he is right there yet, but we did have our doctors and trainers examine him and we are very comfortable that he will be 100% healthy after a little bit more rehab.”
Kubota says Jefferies will likely report to Arizona and will be evaluated further at that point.
At his best, Jefferies is electric on the mound, Kubota says.
“When he is healthy, it’s three plus pitches,” Kubota said. “[He’s] 90-95 with the fastball, has a plus slider and a plus change-up. There is so much to like about him. He can really pitch. He’s very athletic.”
Like Puk, Jefferies rated higher on the A’s board than the slot the A’s picked him at, 37.
“Picking six and then picking 37, early in the spring, we felt that there was no chance that Daulton would get to 37,” Kubota said. “There would probably at some point been consideration for him at six for us had his pitched the whole year like he did in the beginning.”
Unlike Puk and Jefferies, Logan Shore profiles as a safer pick who rates at the top of the scale for pitchability. Despite not having an overpowering fastball, Shore had a 2.44 ERA in 92.1 innings for the Florida Gators this season. Although he was on the same staff as two pitchers who were selected ahead of him (Puk and Dane Dunning), Shore has been the Gators’ ace and Friday night starter.
“[Logan] can just really pitch. He’s extremely competitive. He is very advanced as far as knowing how to use what he has,” Kubota said. “To be honest, it’s not a sexy look at times because he pitches at 88-92, but we have seen him throw up to 94 in the past.
"We think a lot of it is style. He’s just content to use the two-seamer and sink the ball and get outs, which he has done for three years. He is a really, really advanced pitcher and he is just a great competitor.”