Oakland A’s Prospect AJ Puk Gearing up for 2019 Return

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MESA, AZ - MARCH 3: A.J. Puk #30 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the game against the San Diego Padres at Hohokam Stadium on March 3, 2018 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** A.J. Puk

The Oakland A’s shocked the baseball world last year. Few expected much out of the team throughout the year. But instead of finishing in the bottom of the American League West, they competed for the division crown. Even into the final weeks they battled the New York Yankees for the top Wild Card spot. All this was done without one of the top arms in the organization pitching for them.

AJ Puk Eyes 2019 Return

LHP prospect A.J. Puk was lost for 2018 in Spring Training to Tommy John Surgery. As Spring Training 2019 has begun, Susan Slusser is reporting that Puk threw off a mound and is eyeing a mid-season return. This is great news for a team that is looking to compete for a top stop in both the division and in the league for years to come.

Oakland’s Future Dominant Rotation

In the early 2000’s, the A’s were one of the best teams in baseball, and they were built on dominant pitching. With Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito holding three of the five rotation spots, the team was tough to beat each night. They were so strong that a book titled Aces was written about them, chronicling their final year together.

When Puk returns and is ready to make his debut, the A’s could again start to build around two up-and-coming star pitchers. By adding his arm, along with Jesus Luzardo who is set to debut this season as well, Oakland will soon have another group of pitchers that no team wants to face.

Puk’s Promising Start

Though he missed all of last season, there is plenty to get excited about with Puk. As the best college arm in the 2016 draft, many projected Puk to go as the first pick. At pick No. 6, the A’s were ecstatic to see that he was still on the board when it was their turn to select. By getting Puk, they added a power lefty that they knew could contribute soon.

At the start it looked like Puk would easily follow their plan. While he went 0-4 over his debut season in the minors in 2016, Puk struck out 40 batters in just 32.2 innings. He also kept the ball in the ballpark and base runners at a minimum. During that season, he allowed zero homers while posting a 1.07 WHIP.

In 2017, he was even better. Pitching in both High-A and Double-A, Puk gave a glimpse of the dominance he can show. Facing Puk, hitters often had no chance as he struck out 184 batters in 125 innings pitched. That comes out to an incredible 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings. The next stop looked to be Oakland.

But things do not always go as planned. As spring training came to a close, Puk needed Tommy John Surgery. Instead of a promising rookie year, 2018 was filled with rehab and missed time.

Ace-like Potential

Even after missing all of 2018, there continues to be a lot to like about Puk. Many that undergo Tommy John Surgery have come back stronger. Currently, MLB.com ranks him as the fourth best left-handed pitching prospect in all of baseball. He also ranks as their 42nd all-around prospect.

Puk showcases an upper 90’s fastball and a dominating slider which allows him to control hitters and be tough to beat. As he continues to build on commanding the zone, the 6-foot-7 lefty has the stuff to be flat out unhittable. When the A’s were great, no team wanted to take on their rotation. With AJ Puk ready to return soon, the A’s look ready to have a rotation filled with aces yet again. A rotation that will strike fear in any lineup.

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