After some initial setbacks this year, one of the Oakland A’s top prospects is getting his next chance in the majors.
The A’s announced Tuesday morning that they’ve called up pitcher A.J. Puk from Triple-A.
The 6’7” lefty entered the year as the club’s No. 1 prospect, but he’d also missed two of the previous three seasons to injury including all of last summer. He was back to health this spring, and in early April he got the call to MLB, but after one appearance for Oakland he quickly went on the injured list again with a strained left biceps.
Since that latest setback, Puk has been pitching as a reliever for Triple-A Las Vegas. At first it went poorly, with nine homers allowed in 18 innings, but since late-June he turned it around and posted sparkling numbers in 22 innings over 13 games. He also recovered his elite velocity, which had briefly experienced a dip after his latest injury, and he’s been working at 96-98 mph lately, reports Melissa Lockard of The Athletic — with at least one 99 along the way.
- Puk, AAA lately: 1.64 ERA, 22 ip, 24 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR, 24 hits, 3.00 FIP
The southpaw made his MLB debut in 2019 and held his own in limited duty (10 games, 3.18 ERA, 3.39 FIP), but his outing this April was his best yet. He retired 10 batters, four of them by strikeout, and didn’t allow a run to the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers, including stranding two inherited runners.
- Puk, 2021 MLB: 3⅓ ip, 0 runs, 4 Ks, 3 BB, 1 hit, 65 pitches, .278 xwOBA
What’s more, that impressive performance came with his velocity topping out around 95 mph. Now the 26-year-old is re-armed with a couple extra ticks on his heater, which he achieved by dropping his arm angle 4-6 inches, reports Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle.
He's also sporting a beard that goes halfway down his neck but includes no mustache. Abe Lincoln but with red hair.— Melissa Lockard (@melissalockard) August 2, 2021
Unfortunately, somebody had to go to make room on the active roster, and fellow reliever J.B. Wendelken was designated for assignment. The right-hander was out of options so he couldn’t be sent down to the minors, and we’ll find out his next step in the coming days — he might be claimed off waivers, or traded, or even stick around in the organization, among other possibilities. Either way he’s removed from both the 26-man and 40-man rosters.
From 2018-20, Wendelken did strong work out of the pen, with a 2.30 ERA and 3.03 FIP over 74⅓ innings during that span. He was off to another fine start this year but landed on the injured list in early May with a strained oblique, and upon his return in late-June he’s mostly found himself in mopup duty.
- Wendelken, 2021: 4.32 ERA, 25 ip, 26 Ks, 13 BB, 2 HR, 3.69 FIP, .309 xwOBA
He did get one chance to hold a lead in July and technically took a blown save, but it wasn’t his fault — he induced the double-play grounder to end it but the infield flubbed it, allowing the automatic extra-inning runner to score an unearned run.
Analysis: I’m surprised to see Wendelken go, especially since Burch Smith hasn’t been lighting it up and does have options remaining. (Puk was already on the 40-man roster and only needed a 26-man spot). The A’s usually prioritize keeping everybody in the organization, and they had the chance to here, so perhaps it’s telling that they didn’t. Not sure what they’ve seen to lose faith in Wendelken, who has long been popular on Athletics Nation and wasn’t pitching badly this year.
Here’s the updated roster, with the injury report below.
Chris Bassitt (R)
Sean Manaea (L)
Frankie Montas (R)
Cole Irvin (L)
James Kaprielian (R)
60-IL: Mike Fiers (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
Andrew Chafin (L)
Jake Diekman (L)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Sergio Romo (R)
Deolis Guerra (R)
A.J. Puk (L)
Burch Smith (R)
60-IL: Trevor Rosenthal (R)
Sean Murphy (R)
Yan Gomes (R)
1B: Matt Olson (L)
2B: Jed Lowrie (S)
SS: Elvis Andrus (R)
3B: Matt Chapman (R)
UT: Josh Harrison (R)
UT: Tony Kemp (L)
DH: Mitch Moreland (L)
Mark Canha (R)
Starling Marte (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Seth Brown (L)
IL: Chad Pinder (R)