For the first time since 1998 the Oakland Athletics picked in the top six of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft.
Eighteen years ago they took Mark Mulder, who won 81 games over five seasons as a member of the A’s Big Three of the early-2000s. Hoping to capitalize the same way in 2016, Oakland selected another large left-handed pitcher in University of Florida’s A.J. Puk with the No. 6 overall pick.
Many projections, including that of Sports Illustrated’s Christopher Crawford, had Puk going first overall in the draft given his .195 opponent’s batting average and 95 strikeouts over 70 innings (1.4 per inning) this season in the tough Southeastern Conference.
A 6-foot-7, 230-pound fireballer from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Puk spent three years on the mound in a Gators uniform. In that time he made 52 total appearances, boasting a 16-9 record striking out a monstrous total of 245 batters in just 190-1/3 innings.
His stature and stuff combination create a favorable comparison outside of Mulder. One that he, himself, has long considered, as he told CSN’s Joe Stiglich:
“I was a big CC Sabathia fan. I always just watched him pitch, and just thought I could be him one day.”
Sabathia, a Bay Area native — born in Vallejo — is a 217-game winner, six-time All-Star and winner of the 2006 American League CY Young Award. If the A’s are able to squeeze similar production out of Puk it will have been a successful selection.
Not unlike his idol, the Florida junior experienced some off-the-field trouble in 2015.
On April 12, 2015 he and fellow Gator pitcher Kirby Snead were arrested for third-degree criminal trespassing when they entered a marked construction zone on campus and climbed a crane, according to the Orlando Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson.
Of the arrest, Puk told Stiglich:
“It was a stupid idea. We just decided to climb it and see what the view was like. Someone called the cops on us and we got arrested.”
The 35th-round pick of the Detroit Tigers out of high school has also endured some problems on the field, walking 31 batters thus far in his junior season. The high walk total — just shy of 4 walks per nine inning pitched — has been a contributing factor to a pedestrian 3.21 ERA despite a low batting average against.
In his college career, Puk has compiled 84 walks in his 190-1/3 frames — a nearly identical per-inning ration to that of the current season — boasting a worthy 2.92-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The 2015 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team selection, however, comes with massive upside potential.
A’s fans can see him first-hand as his Florida Gators take on the Florida State Seminoles in the NCAA Super Regionals beginning Friday (June 10) through the weekend.