The Oakland A’s called up pitching prospect A.J. Puk on Tuesday, the team announced. To make room on the 25-man roster, reliever Wei-Chung Wang was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas on Monday. There was already an open spot on the 40-man roster, so no further move was needed there.
The left-handed Puk is one of the A’s three blue-chip, Top 100 national prospects. Entering the season he ranked as the second-best prospect in Oakland’s system, and he was within the Top 40 of most of the major national lists despite the fact that he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s a big deal, as evidenced by his pedigree as the sixth overall pick in the 1st round of the 2016 draft.
Back in the spring of 2018 it looked like Puk might already be on the cusp of the majors, but instead he required elbow surgery that April, which cost him the entire season and the beginning of this summer. He finally returned to action this June and worked his way back up to Triple-A in late July. The left-hander appeared in nine games for Las Vegas, striking out 16 of the 44 batters he faced over 11 innings, with just three walks. He hasn’t yet pitched on back-to-back days, but he did go on just one day’s rest a couple times.
Puk, AAA: 4.91 ERA, 11 ip, 16 Ks, 3 BB, 3 HR, 5.54 FIP
Standing 6’7 with long hair waving all over, Puk’s signature is an upper-90s fastball that bears an elite 70-grade from MLB Pipeline and a 65-grade from FanGraphs (on the 20-to-80 scouting scale). He complements it with a similarly excellent slider, which was also considered one of the best in the minors (65 from Pipeline, 60 from FanGraphs). He usually throws a changeup too, but he’s not using it this season due to some discomfort; however, he’s mixed in a curveball recently, reports Athletics Farm.
Add it all up and you’ve got a strikeout monster who misses bats as well as anybody. In his minor league career he’s faced 774 batters (over 183 innings) and fanned 262 of them, for rates of 33.9% and 12.9 K/9. There were questions about his control out of college, but he’s managed to keep his walks within reason in the pros, and his command has been good enough to avoid damage on the strikes he throws. Before his surgery he was extremely stingy with homers, though he served up a handful during his rehab these last couple months.
Although Puk’s long-term future is expected to be in the starting rotation, he’ll pitch out of the bullpen for now. The team wants to limit his innings this year to ease him back from his major surgery and long-term recovery layoff. His longest outing in the minors this year was two innings and 47 pitches, and his next-longest was 35 pitches.
That’s good news for Oakland’s bullpen, which could use some impact help. The relief corps has improved lately but still leads the AL with 22 blown saves, and Puk’s dynamic lefty power arm could potentially be a huge boost. The unit is currently led by All-Star closer Liam Hendriks, setup fireman Yusmeiro Petit, and July trade acquisition Jake Diekman. The expected star trio of 2018 All-Star Blake Treinen, 2018 rookie sensation Lou Trivino, and free agent addition Joakim Soria, have all struggled this season, while lefty Ryan Buchter has gone through some slumps too.
The odd man out is Wang, who arrived last winter as a minor league free agent. The lefty returned to the majors for the first time since brief stints in 2014 and 2017. He made 20 appearances and mostly held his own in a mopup role, and along the way he earned his first career win, more than five years after his MLB debut.
Wang, 2019: 3.33 ERA, 27 ip, 16 Ks, 11 BB, 4 HR, 5.29 FIP
The 27-year-old doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, and his peripheral stats aren’t great, but he’s good enough for the majors and he’s a solid lefty depth arm to have stashed in the minors.
In unrelated news, the A’s also announced Monday that catcher Dustin Garneau, who was DFA’d last week, has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A. In other words, he remains in the organization for now, though he’s off the 40-man roster.
Welcome to the Show, A.J.! Here’s the updated 25-man roster:
Mike Fiers (R)
Tanner Roark (R)
Brett Anderson (L)
Homer Bailey (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Liam Hendriks (R)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Jake Diekman (L)
Joakim Soria (R)
Blake Treinen (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
Ryan Buchter (L)
A.J. Puk (L)
Chris Herrmann (L)
Josh Phegley (R)
Matt Olson (L)
Corban Joseph (L)
Marcus Semien (R)
Matt Chapman (R)
Jurickson Profar (S)
Khris Davis (R)
Mark Canha (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Robbie Grossman (S)
Chad Pinder (R)
10-day IL: OF Ramon Laureano (leg)
60-day IL: RHP Daniel Gossett (TJS), LHP Sean Manaea (shoulder)