Tuesday was a big day on the Oakland A's farm, as the team's 2016 first-round pick made his pro debut. Flamethrowing left-hander A.J. Puk, the No. 6 overall selection in the draft, started for the Low-A Vermont Lake Monsters and breezed through two scoreless innings.
Puk faced the minimum six batters in his two frames, and he needed only 17 pitches to retire them. His outing wasn't quite perfect, as the first batter he faced reached on an error by second baseman Jesus Lopez, but a double play later eliminated that baserunner. As far as Puk is concerned, he threw strikes and induced six grounders from his six batters. Tough to complain about that.
It might seem odd that his debut was so short, but rest assured that it's totally normal. Pitchers fresh off the draft tend to be eased into pro ball, and starts of only two or three innings are common. Remember that the pro season lasts much longer than the campaigns in high school and college, so a guy like Puk is used to being well into his offseason by now -- even after a deep postseason run that saw his University of Florida team go all the way to the College World Series, he still hadn't made a start since June 13, a full month ago. I'd be surprised if we saw Puk (or any 2016 draftee) throw more than three innings in a game for the rest of this season, just as last year's draftees (like Bubba Derby, Kyle Friedrichs, Evan Manarino, and Kevin Duchene) were hard-capped at three frames at a time.
The one thing Puk's outing was missing was strikeouts, but I actually don't mind that at all in this case. I'm not worried about his ability to rack up Ks as he develops, given his power arsenal (up to 99 mph) and his track record (12 K/9 his last two years in college). What I'm more worried about is his efficiency. His well-documented wildness led to lots of walks in college, which is never what you want, but even more importantly it led to short outings as he wore himself out by racking up big pitch counts early in games. Over the last two seasons he didn't even average five innings per start, and teammate Logan Shore averaged a full inning more per game.
On Tuesday, though, he completely flipped the script. There was one long at-bat, with a full count and seven total pitches, but otherwise he made quick work of his opposition. He threw a first-pitch strike to four of his six batters, which is a great way to keep things moving efficiently. As awesome as it would have been for him come out of this debut with a bunch of strikeouts, I think it was even more encouraging to see him bear down and just get some quick outs. Feels like he practiced pitching in this one, rather than throwing.
Unfortunately I haven't yet found any reports on how his velocity looked, but Puk himself had this to say about the game, via Michael Peng of MiLB.com:
"My command was really good," Puk said. "I threw my fastball wherever I wanted to, moved it in and out. They were just reaching out for it and beating it into the ground. I had some good secondary offerings as well and got a lot of quick at-bats."
Congratulations to A.J. Puk on a successful debut! Here's to many, many more wonderful performances.
(Bonus: The final batter Puk faced was Ryan Ripken, the son of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr.)
The ever-evolving roster
Vermont's roster continues to evolve as more draftees roll in, which is normal for Low-A. Here's an updated look, with the 2016 draftees in italics:
Ivan Andueza (L)
Derek Beasley (L)
Will Gilbert (L)
Tyler Painton (L)
A.J. Puk (L)
Dalton Sawyer (L)
There were five additions and two subtractions, bringing the total roster to 32 players. (The hard cap is 35, with 30 on the active roster and 25 suiting up for any given game. It's not clear who the two inactive players are.)
Hello: Of the five players added, four are from the 2016 draft. The other one is Jesus Lopez, who had been playing for Single-A Beloit. The 19-year-old, who just barely missed making our CPL last winter (probably No. 31 or 32 on the Top 30 list), made it into 56 games for the Snappers but managed only a 61 wRC+ in 210 plate appearances. As for the four draftees, here they are listed by the round in which they were selected:
1. A.K. Puk, LHP
6. Brandon Bailey, RHP
7. Tyler Ramirez, OF
12. Luke Persico, OF
The A's drafted 11 players in the first 10 rounds, and seven of them are now in Vermont (Murphy, Shelby, Gilbert, and Sawyer are the others).
Goodbye (for now): LHP Jorge Martinez was sent back down to the Arizona Rookie League. The 20-year-old has shown solid strikeout ability in rookie ball so far. The other departure was middle infielder Tim Proudfoot, who retired. He was the team's 35th-round pick in 2015, but didn't hit much in 56 minor league games.
Top performers (stats are through Tue.): The leading hitter is 20-year-old Miguel Mercedes (202 wRC+), whose four homers lead the team and rank second in the whole league. Draftees Nate Mondou (148 wRC+) and Eli White (136 wRC+) are hitting for high averages so far, and 20-year-old Luis Barrera (145 wRC+) has also found early success.
On the pitching side, Dakota Chalmers is off to a good start (5 games, 2.53 ERA, 21⅓ ip, 21 Ks, 7 BB). A couple of late-round 2015 draftees, Brendan Butler and Xavier Altamirano, have minuscule ERAs and impressive K/BB rates. Also, A.J. Puk has a 0.00 ERA, booyah.
Rookie League update: 1B Chris Iriart played a game in the Arizona Rookie League on Wednesday, going 1-for-2 with an RBI double. Iriart had been the Single-A Snappers' best hitter before getting hit in the face by a pitch on June 2 and going on the DL. It's great to see him back in action!
Four affiliates were in action today, with Triple-A taking the day off for its All-Star Game.
Double-A Midland: Won 3-2, Daniel Gossett vs. San Antonio
High-A Stockton: LIVE, Kyle Friedrichs vs. High Desert
Single-A Beloit: Lost 4-1, James Naile vs. Dayton
Low-A Vermont: Lost 8-4, Heath Bowers vs. Auburn
Gossett and Friedrichs both continued their rolls with strong outings. Naile was excellent despite the loss (7 ip, 1 run, 7 Ks). Since we just talked about Vermont, both Mondou and White had multi-hit games and Barrera reached base in both of his plate appearances. Catcher Miguel Guzman (playing 1B) also went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles.