Photo by Greg Bessette

Q&A with Oakland A's 2016 1st-round pick A.J. Puk, LHP

For the first time since 1999, the Oakland A's had a selection among the first nine picks in the MLB Draft. The A's used that pick on A.J. Puk, a hard-throwing left-hander from the University of Florida. Donald Moore spoke with Puk about his transition to pro ball.

In the late 1990s, the Oakland A's spent two top-10 selections on college left-handers. In 1998, the A's selected left-hander Mark Mulder out of Michigan State University. In 1999, the A's took left-hander Barry Zito out of USC. Since the Zito selection in 1999, the A's had drafted no higher than 10th in any draft until this season, when they had the sixth overall pick. The A's used that pick on another college lefty, A.J. Puk. The A's are hopeful that the hard-throwing Puk will have a similar impact on their franchise that both Mulder and Zito did in the early 2000s. For much of the pre-draft season, Puk was a favorite to go first overall to the Philadelphia Phillies. When he was still available at pick six, the A's jumped at the chance to select him. Puk had a standout three-year career at Florida, striking out 249 in 192 innings. He helped to lead the Gators to back-to-back College World Series appearances.

As a junior this season, Puk posted a 3.05 ERA in 73.2 innings. He struck-out 102 and walked 37 while allowing just 51 hits. Puk comes to professional baseball with a fastball that can touch 97 and a sharp, swing-and-miss slider. At 6'7'', he has a workhorse starter frame. He was part of a talented Florida team that had eight top-10 round picks this year, including fellow starter Logan Shore, who was the A's second-round pick. Both Puk and Shore are currently in the Vermont Lake Monsters' rotation.

Puk made his pro debut with the Lake Monsters on July 12. The A's are keeping a close watch on Puk's innings, but he has increased his pitch count with every outing. On August 3, he worked a career-high four innings, allowing just an unearned run on one hit and one walk. In 12.1 innings over five appearances, Puk has a 2.92 ERA and a 12:4 K:BB.

Donald Moore spoke with Puk during a recent Vermont roadtrip to upstate New York. 

The Interview

Donald Moore: Hi A.J., how is everything going for you so far this season?

A.J. Puk: It's going really well and I'm excited to be out here and starting my pro career.

DM: What are your goals for this year?

AP: To continue to work and get better and go down to Instructs and maybe change some things up. We'll see.

DM: What do you feel is your greatest strength as a ballplayer?

AP: I have a good fastball, a good slider and I'm trying to improve my change-up.

DM: What would you'd like to improve on?

AP: My change-up. I always had a pretty good one, but I didn't throw it that much in college. I'm throwing it more out here and I'm happy where it's at.

DM: How are you acclimating to professional baseball?

AP: It's pretty nice. It hasn't been too big of a step so far. I talked a lot to Richie Martin who the A's picked up last year [A's 2015 first-round pick who also went to Florida] and went through the same thing last year. He's been a good help.

DM: What is the best thing about being a professional athlete?

AP: It's your job and you don't have to worry about school or anything and classes. So it's baseball 24/7.

DM: What is the hardest thing about being a pro?

AP: I'd say accountability. You have to come in and do your own thing. It's not like college where everything is all set up to do your own thing. It hasn't been that bad so far.

DM: Any pre-game routine?

AP: No, no pre-game routines

DM: Any hobbies?

AP: I golf a little bit, fish a  little bit and play video games and hang out.

DM: Favorite baseball team growing up?

AP: St. Louis Cardinals.

DM: Where are you originally from?

AP: Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

DM: Do you feel any additional pressure to perform being Oakland's number one draft pick?

AP: No, not really. I'm just going to continue to work hard and get better. I'll just go out there and prove myself and do the the best I can.

DM: If there is one person who taught you the most about baseball, who would that be?

AP: I think Ron Benich and Travis Mueller, my hitting and pitching coaches growing up. My dad was a football guy, so he didn't know so much.

DM: Craziest thing you have ever seen on a baseball diamond?

AP: The craziest thing? I'm not sure. I've seen a foul ball hit one of those lights and the glass just shattered and rained down on people.

DM: Any off-season plans?

AP: Right now I'll be living in Tampa in the off-season and working out there .

DM: Thank you for your time and the best of luck to you and your career.

AP: Thank you.

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