By now, A.J. Puk was expected to already have made a major impact on the A's. But injuries haven't been kind to the 6-foot-7 left-hander and he missed all of last season.
However, The Athletic's Keith Law still ranks Puk as the A's top prospect ahead of the 2021 season.
"The A’s reworked his delivery after drafting him to make better use of his 6-foot-7 frame, getting him to finish better over his front side, and he seemed on track to be an above-average starter even with what would probably be fringy command in the end," Law wrote on Puk. "If his stuff is intact after the latest operation, that’s still his ceiling."
Puk is the A's lone representative on Law's Top 100 prospects list. The A's selected him with the No. 6 pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, and he made his debut out of the bullpen in 2019. He went 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA in 10 relief appearances and struck out 13 batters in 11 1/3 innings.
When Puk joined the A's, he was sitting at 97 mph with his fastball and can hit triple digits. He also sports a 90 mph slider and nasty changeup. The hope always has been for him to be a starter, and that remains the same even after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018 and shoulder surgery last year that kept him shelved for the whole season.
"Our initial goal right now on paper is A.J. is going to come in and build up as a starter," A's pitching coach Scott Emerson recently told NBC Sports California's Katie Woo. "Obviously if the arm doesn't play the way we feel like it plays or how he's feeling then there's always different options.
"But option number one right now is to build him up as a starter. ... We haven't really discussed option number two yet."
Having Puk in the rotation would be huge for the A's. Emerson said Puk "feels great," and Oakland can only hope that stays true the entire season.