For one final time, the A’s Big Three of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder came back together at the Coliseum on Sept. 27, 2015. None of the three actually pitched that day, though Zito and Hudson did the day before. Instead the reunion was a celebration with a ceremonial first pitch before the A’s took on the Giants as the careers of Zito and Hudson were coming to an end after the ’15 season.
Mulder faced a barrage of injuries at the end of his career and he last pitched in the majors in 2008 with the Cardinals.
Fast forward two seasons later and the A’s may be at the toddler days of their next Big Three. Oakland went pitching heavy to start the 2016 MLB Draft taking A.J. Puk (University of Florida) No. 6 overall, Daulton Jefferies (Cal) No. 37 overall and Logan Shore (University of Florida) No. 47 overall.
While these three came with three picks in a row from the same class, the original Big Three was spaced out by three years.
Hudson came first via the sixth round of the 1997 draft after starring on the hill and at the plate for Auburn. Then, the A's grabbed lefties Mulder (No. 2 overall in ’98 out of Michigan State) and Zito (No. 9 overall in ’99 out of USC). All three found their way to the Triple-A Vancouver Canadians in ’99, but never at one point did the full trio play together in Vancouver as Hudson quickly found his way to Oakland that season. Mulder and Zito did, however, help the team win the Triple-A World Series.
In 2017, the Class of 2016’s Big Three is starting together this season in Advanced Single-A with the Stockton Ports.
“For them to be there at these three picks for us, we think it’s a big step forward for our pitching depth," A’s scouting director Eric Kubota said after the team picked up all three in the '16 draft.
The Florida duo of Puk and Shore are further along than Jefferies early into their careers. The two started off in Short Season Single-A with the Vermont Lake Monsters while Jefferies pitched in the Arizona Rookie League last season.
Standing at 6-foot-7 with a fastball that reaches 97-98 mph, Puk was once considered a possible No. 1 pick after a huge sophomore season. Command issues hurt him as a junior, but still, the A's couldn't believe Puk was available for them.
"At no point in the spring did we think that we’d have a chance to talk about him as the sixth pick," Kubota said.
Puk proved his worth by striking out 40 batters in 32.2 innings pitched and posted a 1.07 WHIP last season. The A's brought Puk up for two innings worth of work this spring training with the big league team. He struck out five and only gave up one hit, a home run.
While Puk garnered more attention with his frame and high ceiling, Shore was the go-to guy for the Gators. Shore went 12-1 with a 2.31 ERA over 18 starts for Florida in 2016 to earn SEC Pitcher of the Year honors.
Simply put, Shore knows how to pitch. He sits in the lower 90s and pounds the zone. His pro debut season ended with a 2.57 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 21 innings pitched. Like Puk, he too spent a short amount of time with the big league team in spring training.
Shore went 1-1 in big league camp with a 1.80 ERA over two appearances. He made a surprise start near the end of spring training against the Angels where he only allowed one run and two hits over four innings pitched. Shore even struck out reigning AL MVP Mike Trout.
“That’s the kind of lineup that gets your attention a little bit,” manager Bob Melvin said after Shore's start. “I thought he threw the ball really well. He had great command of his fastball, a backdoor sinker, good changeup, good slider. He probably got a little bit tired at the end, but he was very impressive. That’s the first time I got to see him throw.”
Jefferies should give A's fans a double take. Not only is Jefferies' game reminiscent of Sonny Gray, his face and body features look eerily similar to the 2015 All-Star.
“I look up to him a lot, but I didn’t say we have the same baby face or anything like that," Jefferies said on when he met Gray. "I just said, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ I tried to stay composed.”
As a junior at Cal, Jefferies only started eight games due to calf and shoulder injuries. In that time, he was dominant. Jefferies went 7-0 with a 1.08 ERA, showing scouts the force he can be on the mound at only 6-feet, 180 pounds.
The A's took caution with Jefferies last year and kept him in minor league camp during spring training. In the Arizona Rookie League, Jefferies started five games and struck out 17 over just 11.1 innings pitched to the tune of a 2.38 ERA.
The Zito, Hudson, Mulder Big Three were the AL West's worst nightmare when the three played together in Oakland from 2000-2004. Over that five-year span, they started a combined 465 games for a 234-119 record, 3.54 ERA and compiled 2209 strikeouts in 3088.1 innings pitched.
The Big Three of Puk, Jefferies and Shore combined for a total of zero wins in their first crack at pro ball last year. Going back to their three years of college though, these are the numbers the new A's trio put up: 142 games (125 starts), 61 wins, 33 losses, 726 innings pitched, 682 strikeouts, and a 2.78 ERA.
If the Class of 2016 even comes within a throwing distance of the A’s original Big Three in the majors, Oakland's front office can look back at a historic draft where going arms heavy on the college side proved to be right. Now, the trio's journey all together starts this season in Stockton.