Athletics

A's ready to use A.J. Puk in 'a big spot' in making major league debut

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AP

A's ready to use A.J. Puk in 'a big spot' in making major league debut

OAKLAND -- A.J. Puk's major-league debut has been a long time coming. The A's believe it will be worth the wait.

Puk, 24, has been ranked as the A's No. 2 prospect for the last four years. After undergoing Tommy John surgery last spring, the 6-foot-7 left-hander is finally ready to take the field at the Coliseum.

"I’m really excited to just get out here and compete and try to help the team," Puk said. "It's been a long year -- a lot of work -- and it's paid off. I'm happy to be here."

The A's are certainly happy to have him as well. In the long-term, Puk will be a starting pitcher, but since he's on an innings limit following his surgery, he will join the bullpen for the stretch run.

"I'm not afraid to use him in a big spot," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "Now he's in the big leagues, the training wheels are off, and I'm looking forward to seeing him out there."

Puk has dominant stuff that should play right away in the majors. His fastball sits in the high 90s and can even touch 100, and his slider is absolutely devastating against either left-handed or right-handed batters.

"I see a fungo with long hair," joked NBC Sports California analyst Dallas Braden. "I also see a dude who has thunder coming out of that left arm and I see who I think understands how important and how valuable he can be, even in a short burst right now."

Melvin summed up Puk's stuff in a similar, if not as colorful, manner.

"Well, he throws rather hard. He's got a pretty good slider. Up to this point, he's developed into the guy that we kind of expected him to. ... We've been excited watching his progress and we're excited to have him."

Puk should significantly upgrade an Oakland bullpen that has dealt with its share of struggles this season. 

[RELATED: A's release struggling Estrada after constant back issues]

"What he's potentially capable of allows some other guys to settle in and maybe take a load off," Braden explained. "There's no doubt that, if necessary, he's poised for a big moment. That's what he has to know he's here for."

Puk will have his entire family at the Coliseum on Tuesday night -- his parents, three siblings, his agent Scott Boras, and even his old pitching coach who he's known since the age of nine.

"When they call my name, (I'll) be ready to pitch," Puk said. "Probably juiced up a lot. I'll try to stay relaxed and just get the job done."

Bruce Maxwell's Colin Kaepernick kneel still sparks hate, misunderstanding

Bruce Maxwell's Colin Kaepernick kneel still sparks hate, misunderstanding

Programming note: Tune in to "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. this week on NBC Sports Bay Area.

Like Colin Kaepernick, he is a black man who saw injustice and was compelled to respond.

Unlike Kaepernick, his chosen field is dominated by whites.

Like Kaepernick, he imperiled his career over a matter of principle.

Unlike Kaepernick, he has been largely forgotten.

Bruce Maxwell is neither bitter nor regretful. He is scarred. And when he speaks, it is with a strong sense of emotional fatigue. As if he has been through the fire and accepts that the burns upon him will ache forever.

“I still have the messages,” he says. “I had a kid the other day come out on my team and just said, ‘Eff you,’ on my Instagram. He was like, ‘People like you are the problem that we have in this country.’ I had a guy reach out to me last year ... in the middle of my season, down here in Mexico, that told me that he hopes me and my family die a horrible death. I still get ...

“Three years and I still get it. It's the hate. It's the hate.”

Maxwell was speaking this week as a panelist on an NBC Sports Bay Area roundtable discussion, “Race in America: A Candid Conversation,” in reaction to global outrage after George Floyd was asphyxiated beneath the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. This was the latest example of the conduct Maxwell had hoped to eradicate.

On Sept. 23, 2017, Maxwell, a biracial catcher for the Oakland A’s, decided to bring attention to police brutality afflicting the black community. Following the lead of Kaepernick, Maxwell dropped to one knee during the playing of the national anthem before an A’s-Rangers game at the Oakland Coliseum.

“I was just going into a year in the league,” he says. “I was a nobody. I was still technically a rookie. I didn't have millions of dollars in the bank, but this was much bigger than my paycheck.”

With baseball being a sport that generally tilts to the political right, Maxwell might as well have put a bullet into the leg of his Major League career.

Maxwell finished the season with the A’s and, with 109 games on his resume, all with Oakland, hoped to compete for a job in 2018. Five weeks after kneeling for the anthem, he was arrested in Scottsdale, Ariz., and initially charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon – pointing a gun at a food deliverer – and disorderly conduct. In July 2018, after pleading guilty disorderly conduct, Maxwell was sentenced to two years' probation.

A bullet into the other leg of his career. Maxwell appeared 18 games in 2018 and saw his statistics decline for a third consecutive season. He was not re-signed by the A’s that November and has not since been signed by any of the 30 MLB teams.

Maxwell, 29, took his career to Mexico, where last season he was an All-Star, posting a .325/.407/.559 slash line, with 24 home runs and 112 RBIs in 109 games with Acereros de Monclova of the Mexican League.

Though the light that represents MLB gets a little smaller every day, Maxwell, 29, hasn’t given up. He’d love another chance at the bigs. He also realizes his social-justice moment has become a burden that can’t be rinsed off his back.

And he’s OK with that. Indeed, the Floyd tragedy causes Maxwell to relive his own experience, all while the resultant global outrage -- the rioting and looting and increasingly violent police response -- simultaneously drops a knot into his belly.

“I have so many raw emotions about this,” he says. “All I can see is everybody, including George Floyd, I can see everything that came before him. I see Breonna Taylor (an African-American EMT shot in her bed in Louisville on March 13) sleeping in her bed peacefully. I see everything. And it's so many ways to feel and you can't really put it into words.”

[RELATED: Maxwell details mental toll of kneeling in "HEADSTRONG"]

What seems to bother Maxwell most is not what he might have given up, or what he might never again have. It’s the lack of progress on an issue that, in all humanity, should not be an issue at all.

“Nobody wants to see the message,” he says. “All they see is who's doing the stance. It's difficult to comprehend. It's sometimes difficult to stay on that path, but at the same time, it makes it worth the fight because these things need to happen for change to commence in the world that we live in.”

Maxwell dared to make a highly visible but inarguably peaceful protest for a cause any human must consider just. He did it on a baseball field, which takes monumental courage.

Bruce Maxwell should be remembered. Forever. As will Colin Kaepernick.

Why A's Lou Trivino feels bad for minor league players during MLB halt

Why A's Lou Trivino feels bad for minor league players during MLB halt

Editor's Note: NBC Sports California spoke with Lou Trivino on Friday, May 22, four days before the A's announced they would stop paying $400 weekly stipends to their minor league players for the remainder of the season, and other teams released players.

For reasons of sanity and economy, the return of Major League Baseball this summer is the primary focus of the league and the players' association.

But A’s reliever Lou Trivino also realizes the entire minor league ecosystem would suffer in a multitude of ways, potentially going dormant.

At this point, there are no imminent plans for 242 farm teams and its players across the continent.

“You feel bad for those guys,” Trivino said. “Especially the ones that need the development, that need the reps.”

Most big league players have the advantages of time and accessibility to personal training facilities. They can stay conditioned during shutdowns, without much setback.

But it’s not the same for everyone.

“Some of these minor league guys, they’ve been stuck inside all day and not maybe able to do stuff,” Trivino said. “That really hinders their ability to perform on the field next year.”

Another lesser-discussed aspect to keep an eye on is MLB’s annual amateur draft, which has been reduced from 40 rounds to five rounds.

[RELATED: Braden opposes MLB's proposal]

“You’re not going to see the 11th round guy like myself maybe make it,” Trivino said. “You’re not going to see the late-round guys potentially get that chance and that’s heartbreaking. I’m that guy.”

Trivino started his minor league career in 2013, appearing in 170 games as a starter and reliever at every level, until getting his first chance at the major leagues with Oakland in 2019.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]