Saturday afternoon I took advantage of the rainy weather outside to watch the visiting Vanderbilt Commodores play the host University of Florida Gators. Considering the 2016 MLB Draft is less than a month away, I wanted to seize this opportunity to watch two top-10 teams loaded with potential early round draft prospects. In particular, I wanted to perform an Armchair Evaluation of Florida’s Saturday starter, and projected top draft choice, LHP A.J. Puk.
Facing a difficult and talented Vanderbilt lineup, Puk pitched 6 impressive innings, allowing 1 earned run on 3 hits and 2 walks against 11 strikeouts. Puk threw 110 pitches against the 23 batters he faced, (64 strikes / 46 balls), inducing 3 ground outs and 4 fly outs. Essentially Puk made one mistake, allowing only a solo home run in the 2nd inning to talented freshman Julian Infante.
The monstrous 6-7 230lbs. Puk utilizes a semi-windup, with a simple side step that leads into his high leg kick and delivery toward home. Puk throws from a three-quarter to high three-quarter arm slot and has a noticeably fast arm. His immense size, along with a reasonable amount of excess movement in his motion, causes him to struggle repeating his delivery. Puk has a lengthy arm stroke with a mild arm-wrap, which further limits his ability to command the strike zone.
On this afternoon Puk featured a quality 3-pitch repertoire, including a fastball, slider and changeup. His fastball consistently sat 92-97mph on the television radar gun with excellent life and the occasional movement to his arm-side. The slider was 80-85mph with good two-plane movement and 2-to-8 action, which he could throw for strikes or in the dirt to induce whiffs. Additionally Puk threw a handful of inconsistent upper-80s changeups, some with some movement away from righties and others resembling batting practice fastballs. As mentioned above, Puk struggles with below-average command and control of the strike zone due to his inconsistent mechanics, which limits the overall quality of his stuff. Currently Puk possesses an easy “60/65” fastball, a “55/60” slider and perhaps a “30/35” changeup.
This outing gave a terrific synopsis of Puk as a prospect, as his strengths and weaknesses were fully exposed by Vanderbilt. The “starter kit” with Puk is quite impressive as a lefty with legitimate mid-to-high 90s velocity, a mountainous frame ideal for a starting pitcher and the potential for two plus or better pitches. Unfortunately his size works against him a bit, as he presently struggles to repeat his motion and arm slot. In addition, his lack of confidence and the development of his changeup could hinder his ability to get professional right-handed hitters out. However, his mechanical issues and changeup both should improve with professional coaching and repetitions.
His present velocity, frame and potential for two dominant pitches give him a floor of an impact late-inning reliever. If he can improve his command of the strike zone and his changeup, the ceiling exists for Puk to develop into a #2 or #3 starter in the major leagues. Puk should be an easy top-15 pick in next month’s draft, with a chance he goes inside the top-3.
NatsGM Draft Projection -> Top 5-10 Overall