Athletics

A's spring training Day 8: Top pick AJ Puk attracts a crowd

A's spring training Day 8: Top pick AJ Puk attracts a crowd

MESA, Ariz. — The A’s are excited about 2016 top pick A.J. Puk, that much was apparent by the crowd the lefty attracted for his first “live” bullpen session Tuesday.

Among those watching closely were executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane, general manager David Forst, manager Bob Melvin and pitching coach Curt Young.

Puk, who shaved about 20 pounds off his 6-foot-7 frame over the winter, looked strong against a group of hitters that included touted infield prospects Franklin Barreto and Yairo Munoz.

Melvin in particular liked the way Puk, the No. 6 overall pick out of the University of Florida, worked his curve ball into the mix. That’s a pitch he hadn’t used since high school, but he dusted it off back in the fall instructional league with some encouragement from minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, and he’s working to sharpen it this spring as a complement to his fastball, slider and changeup.

“It’s just nice to have another pitch that’s slower than my other three pitches,” Puk said before Tuesday’s workout.

“It’s a four-pitch mix,” Melvin said. “He’s really starting to distinguish between this slider and curve ball. It was quite a crowd around his cage too. When you’re a young kid you tend to notice that, but I thought he responded really well.”

Puk, 21, is rooming with shortstop Richie Martin, a teammate at Florida whom the A’s made their top pick in 2015. They also lived near each other in Tampa this offseason and worked out together.

Puk comes off very quiet upon meeting him, but Martin warns against being fooled.

“It takes him a while, but once he feels comfortable he’ll break out. You’ll see.”

Melvin was impressed with Puk’s physical shape, saying he’s fielded his position well in pitchers’ fielding drills.

CAMP BATTLE Jesse Hahn will start the A’s Cactus League opener Saturday against the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. It’ll be a chance for Hahn to make an early impression in his bid for the fifth starter spot.

“After the year he had (in 2016), it’s important for him this year. We have to show some faith in him,” Melvin said. “He performed well for us the year before. Last year wasn’t really consistent. We’ll try to get him out there and get him off to a good start.”

Kendall Graveman will take the ball in Sunday’s spring home opener against the Angels. Sonny Gray and Sean Manaea both will pitch Monday against the Giants and Jharel Cotton and Andrew Triggs will be among the group throwing Tuesday against the Indians.

PROSPECT WATCH: Sean Murphy, the A’s third-round pick in June, has shown a very strong throwing arm early in camp. Is it any wonder Melvin, an ex-catcher, was impressed?

“The kid can throw, it’s special,” Melvin said. “We really like him.”

NOTEWORTHY: Still no word on when reliever Santiago Casilla will arrive at camp from the Dominican Republic. Melvin said he isn’t concerned at this stage, and noted that Casilla has been working out at the team’s complex in the Dominican Republic and gave a motivational talk to the younger players there.

A's 2019 Projections: Franklin Barreto could make impact, if he plays

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USATSI

A's 2019 Projections: Franklin Barreto could make impact, if he plays

Editor's note: Over the next few weeks, NBC Sports California will be analyzing a different A's player each day to project their numbers for next season.

Franklin Barreto might be the toughest A's player to project for next season.

First of all, we don't have any idea where, or how much, he's going to play. With Jurickson Profar taking over the starting second baseman job, Barreto could find at-bats hard to come by.

The 22-year-old has played the outfield before and could get some action in left field, but he'll have to battle with Nick Martini, Mark Canha, and Dustin Fowler. There's also still a chance the A's could trade Barreto, possibly for a starting pitcher.

Last season, Barreto hit .233/.253/.493 with five home runs and 16 RBI in 32 games. He spent the majority of the season in Triple-A, where he hit .259/.357/.514 with 18 homers and 46 RBI in 77 games.

Barreto has shown flashes of his potential, but he is still far too inconsistent at the plate, striking out 62 times in 144 career at-bats, compared to just six walks.

Baseball Reference projects Barreto to get 224 at-bats next season and hit .241/.299/.424 with nine home runs and 32 RBI. While the slash line looks realistic, we don't see how he will be able to compile that many at-bats.

Barreto could fill in for Profar or Marcus Semien here and there, but those opportunities will be few and far between. In the outfield, he figures to be fifth, at best, on the depth chart, and that's assuming he's ahead of Fowler and Chad Pinder.

[RELATED: Semien's 2019 projections]

It could be another trying year for the talented 22-year-old, at least in terms of playing time. However, Barreto should continue to develop as a hitter and his easy power is undeniable.

Projection: .244/.306/.434, 9 HR, 23 RBI

Deion Sanders explains why Kyler Murray should pick baseball over NFL

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AP

Deion Sanders explains why Kyler Murray should pick baseball over NFL

If anyone knows what Kyler Murray is going through right now, it's Deion Sanders.

"Prime Time" is one of the most successful two-sport athletes. He played 14 seasons in the NFL with five teams, was a six-time All-Pro and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Sanders also played parts of nine MLB seasons with four teams, including 52 games with the Giants.

So does the NFL Network analyst believe Murray, whom the A's took No. 9 overall in last year's MLB draft, made the right choice by declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft on Monday?

"If I'm in his shoes, I'm picking up that baseball bat and I'm not looking back," Sanders told ESPN's Cari Champion on Monday night.

Why?

"Because, that's just for me," Sanders said. "Sometimes, I still have regret that I didn't give [baseball] more. But you know, I got a gold [Hall of Fame] jacket in the closet. I'm straight. But I wish I would have given [baseball] more.

"But for Kyler, that's tough at his position, and I don't think he realizes the ridicule you go through once you declare and say, 'I'm going to be a football player.' Now people start talking about your height, your size, what you can't do. He hasn't dealt with that yet."

NFL experts and scouts are torn on the Heisman Trophy winner. Several outlets have released mock drafts that project Murray as a first-round pick. But NFL Network's Ian Rapoport has spoken to some NFL scouts who believe Murray will fall to the second or third round.

Sanders is, excited, though, to see what Murray does in the future.

"I think he can do whatever he wants to do," Sanders said. "He's that type of athlete."