A’s scouting director Eric Kubota did not downplay his excitement about landing left-hander A.J. Puk with the sixth pick Thursday in the Major League Baseball draft.
“I probably did a little jig to be honest,” Kubota joked. “We were pretty happy.”
That seemed to sum up the A’s mood overall about their first-day haul in the draft, when they selected three collegiate pitchers who all ranked high on their draft board and wound up falling to them. Following Puk at No. 6, Oakland chose Cal right-hander Daulton Jefferies in Lottery Round A at No. 37 overall and then took Puk’s University of Florida rotation mate, right-hander Logan Shore, in the second round (47th overall).
Kubota insisted the A’s didn’t plan on going pitching-heavy, that all three were simply the highest rated players on the team’s board at the time they were picked. But for a farm system that’s relatively light on starting pitching, particularly in the upper ranks, the A’s seemed to effectively address that need.
“I just think in general, we do need some pitching depth, and it’s been a concern of mine the past couple years,” A’s executive V.P. of baseball operations Billy Beane said leading up to the draft. “It is a concern now, and there will always be a concern, because there’s an attrition with these guys that we see this year” at the major league level.
Regarding Puk, Kubota noted the lefty’s fastball that touches 97 miles per hour, a slider the A’s feel can be an out pitch and a changeup that they think can be honed into an effective third offering. Puk’s high walk rate this season — he averaged 3.99 free passes per nine innings — doesn’t worry the A’s. Repeating mechanics can be a chore for a player of Puk’s size — 6-foot-7, 240 pounds — but Kubota thinks more experience will bring consistent command with Puk.
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“We were very surprised to be honest (that he was available),” Kubota added. “We started hearing this morning he was sliding for whatever reason. At no point in the spring did we think that we’d have a chance to talk about him as the sixth pick.”
Jefferies became Cal’s highest drafted player since outfielder Brett Jackson was chosen 31st by the Cubs in 2009. He likely would have gone higher than 37th were it not for a right shoulder injury that’s sidelined him since March. The A’s had their doctors and trainers examine him, and Kubota said the team is confident he’ll be full strength soon. He’ll likely head to the A’s minor league facility in Arizona to continue rehabbing before pitching in any games. But Kubota raved about Jefferies when he’s at full strength.
The righty checks in at just 6-feet, 180 pounds, but the A’s are impressed by a fastball that touches 95 miles per hour, along with a slider and changeup that Kubota ranks as “plus” pitches. Because he’s undersized and possesses good overall athleticism, there surely will be some Sonny Gray comparisons with Jefferies.
“There’s so much to like about him,” Kubota said. “He can really pitch.”
Though Puk got the hype as Florida’s top draft prospect, it was Shore that was named the SEC Pitcher of the Year and a first-team All-American by Baseball America. He is 11-0 with a 2.44 ERA as the Gators prepare to play Florida State in an NCAA Super Regional this weekend.
Shore doesn’t blow up the radar gun like Puk, but Kubota likes his competitiveness and ability to pitch to contact, even though “it’s not a sexy look at times.”
The A’s spent a third-round draft choice last year on high school right-hander Dakota Chalmers. By drafting three college pitchers up high this season, they added some starting depth that might have a chance to help in the majors sooner rather than later.
“We had them all rated at one time or another as first-round picks,” Kubota said of Thursday’s draft trio. “For them to be there at these three picks for us, we think it’s a big step forward for our pitching depth.”