SEATTLE — A’s left-hander A.J. Puk made a huge jump in Baseball America’s midseason rankings of the game’s top prospects.
Puk vaulted from No. 79 back in May to No. 27 in the publication’s latest rankings released Friday. Interestingly, that places him right behind another of Oakland’s top young players, middle infielder Franklin Barreto, who stayed steady at No. 26.
The sixth overall pick in last summer’s draft out of the University of Florida, Puk rang up 98 strikeouts in just 61 innings with Single-A Stockton to begin this season and earned a promotion to Double-A Midland in mid-June. His record and ERA aren’t eye-popping — 4-7 and 4.12 over 17 appearances combined between the two levels. But it’s a testament to his stuff that the 6-foot-7 lefty is averaging 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
The A’s major league staff got its first extended look at Puk this spring and came away very impressed. Sharing his thoughts on Puk earlier this season, A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson made a lofty comparison between Puk and another towering southpaw.
“Talking about a kid with a lot of weapons,” Emerson said on the A’s Insider Podcast. “He’s got a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball. I know they’re working real hard down there on his breaking ball. When he throws it right, it’s filthy. And he’s got a good changeup. This guy’s got the weapons you’re looking for to be a top-end starter in this league. You go back to confidence, staying focused. If he does that and (is) changing speeds, this guy’s got a chance to be in that Randy Johnson-type category with the electric stuff he has.”
The Big Unit is a Hall of Famer, so it’s obviously premature to mention the 21-year-old Puk in the same breath with him right now. One challenge for Puk moving forward will be mastering his control. He’s averaging 3.9 walks per nine innings this season, and he’s issued nine free passes over 13 1/3 innings in his first three starts since being promoted to Midland.
But at his current progression, it stands to reason Puk could be a factor in the A’s rotation by 2019, perhaps even getting a crack by late next season.