To say AJ Puk is a character is an understatement akin to saying Yogi Bear only kinda likes picnic baskets. He’s a lanky, 6’7”, 220-pound Iowan who looks like he’s going to tumble over himself when he unwinds his elongated delivery, his cape of bright hair splaying out behind him. He’s a lefty, and he was pumping out heat in the mid-90’s through college. On top of that, Puk has tied himself with Ed Ott and Ed Hug for shortest name in MLB (as long as you’re going by the names they used while playing, as people with record-breakingly-short given names probably don’t try to make it to the Majors just to win a goofy honor).
All that, and he’s been a top-ranked prospect since his time at college. The A’s were the lucky ducks who swooped Puk up in the 2016 Draft with the sixth overall pick.
Puk was initially drafted out of high school by the Tigers, but declined the offer and went on to play ball for the University of Florida instead. College shenanigans happen, but when they happen in Florida, everyone gets to hear about it. Puk and a Gator teammate were arrested in their Sophomore year for climbing a crane in an on-campus construction zone without “legal authority”. The two were suspended, and continued baseball-ing not too long after.
Puk was drafted by the A’s in 2016 and pitched short-season before rocketing up through the minors in ‘17, landing himself in AA Midland by the end. Puk opened Spring Training 2018 with 10 consecutive scoreless innings, but fell apart at the seams on March 15th — his final outing of 2018. Just 22 years old and with his eyes on the Majors, Puk was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair his torn ulnar collateral ligament. He was missed the entire rest of the 2018 season.
One year later, Puk was back, starting his spring with AA before making the leap to AAA Vegas. He may have missed out on an entire season to recovery, but Puk was going to make the best of his comeback. It only took until August 20th for Puk to get the call up to Oakland, making a leap out of his first step when he was tossed into a relief role against the Yankees. Puk tossed 11.1 innings for the A’s this past season, picking up 2 wins and 13 K’s.
In fact, Puk’s high K rate was not a blip. All through the minors, Puk has never tossed a K/9 under 10.3. He’s armed with a fierce four-seamer that hovers in the upper-90’s and a change-up that grazes just below the 90 mark.
Equally as important as his K rate, the A’s and Sharks Twitter accounts could not resist having a little pun after Puk’s call up was announced!
Did someone say puck?? In AUGUST???— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) August 20, 2019
We were told there would be no math.— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) August 20, 2019
But if you insist... A.J. is 26.33333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333 pucks tall.
While he did totally fine in relief efforts this past season, Puk is headed for a rotation already stacked with hefty arms. Barring any drastic injuries, an A’s 2020 roster with Puk, Luzardo, Fiers, Manaea, and Montas — and possibly a Cotton or a Bassitt, depending on how things play out this offseason — is a wall of hurt for any opposing teams unlucky enough to be in its path.