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Eyeball Scout: A.J. Puks With Florida State In The Regionals

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NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Florida vs Virginia
Big Unit or Big Bust?
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The Eyeball Scout tried to watch Logan Shore (#47 pick, Florida) but all he saw was lightning and more lightning. By the time Shore took the mound following a lengthy delay, ESPN2 had given up on the game.

Because apparently lightning does strike twice in the same place, A.J. Puk (#6 pick, Florida) also had yesterday’s start delayed but the game started in time for ESPN2 to carry it. I missed the 1st inning but watched Puk in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th until he was lifted with two outs in the 4th despite having blanked Florida State.

Puk's pitching line kind of speaks for itself: 3.2 IP, 1 hit, 0 ER, 6 BB, 6 K. However, this is not the Literature Scout writing to you today. Here’s what my eyes saw...

The first thing that stands out to me is that Puk’s fastball gets in on hitters in a hurry. His fastball plays at least as well as its velocity, which is plenty good in the mid-90s, but the finish, deception, "giddyup" — whatever terms you want to use to describe how it looks to the fan’s eye and to the batter, rather than just to the radar gun — is most definitely there.

Puk's breaking ball is also impressive, partly because he is able to throw it straight down from his 6’7" frame. When a breaking ball has a hump in it, rising slightly out of the hand before breaking, batters have a chance to pick it up earlier. But Puk’s breaking ball comes in looking like his fastball halfway to the plate, and since batters have to start their swing early to hit his fastball they are very prone to chasing the breaking ball that dives down and in (to a RH batter) or away (from a LH batter).

Puk’s changeup seemed like mostly a non-factor, more of a show-me pitch designed to make him appear to be a three-pitch pitcher when in fact his go-to pitches are strictly the fastball/breaking ball combination. Of the few changeups I saw, mostly they were left outside, taken for a ball.

Additionally, I liked Puk’s willingness, and ability, to throw his fastball inside to the RH batters. Even the one hit he allowed came on an excellent pitch that tied up the batter, who muscled a hit over the 2Bman thanks in large part to the aluminum bat. In the big leagues, that’s probably an infield pop-up and Puk clearly has the stuff to tie up RH batters with a fastball that can explode in on a RH batter above the hands.

With 6 BBs in less than 4 IPs, I probably don’t need to say too much about Puk’s control. It was, to put it charitably, inconsistent. Another word one could use to describe it might be "terrible". Granted, the one start I saw was probably one of Puk’s worst games in terms of control but this is "SSS Theatre" and last night it was a struggle for Puk to throw three consecutive pitches where he intended to. His strikes were mostly unhittable and his ability to control his pitches, or even just throw strikes when he wanted, was non-existent.

It is easy for me to find a major league comp for Puk, given his heavy reliance on a plus fastball and plus breaking pitch, the lack of a third pitch, erratic control, his tall frame, and the pedigree of a #6 overall pick. That describes, almost to a T, former A’s LHP Drew Pomeranz, Cleveland’s #5 overall pick in 2010.

Is a comp to Pomeranz a compliment or insult? Pomeranz struggled for years due to his lack of a serviceable third pitch and inconsistency throwing enough strikes. Some analysts predicted a permanent move to the bullpen for Pomeranz, which is a big fall for a pick that high.

That being said, Pomeranz appears finally to have added a serviceable changeup to his repertoire and currently boasts a 2.44 ERA in the Padres’ rotation. 70 IP, 46 hits, 83 Ks? You would take that from Puk in the A’s rotation and that’s Pomeranz currently at age 27.

Puk will probably never be a strike-throwing machine. However, if the A’s can get his control just to "average" and can help him to develop even just a "serviceable" changeup, Puk might be an All-Star. If not, Puk has a chance to be anywhere from an erratic reliever to just another failed high draft pick.

There is ample raw talent to work with and the A’s, historically, can do wonders with young pitchers. Perhaps the A's love his upside and are not afraid of his shortcomings because they feel those are fixable, and internally they can project him as improving his control and changeup enough to be a stud.

If so, Oakland could have a gem on its hands. But the warts are not just real, they are essential pieces: control and a third pitch are the ingredients that separate so many big league success stories from so many college stars turned stalled minor leaguers.

That’s what watching Puk pitch for a little over 2 innings told me. This has been the latest episode of Small Sample Size Theatre.