Phillies Potential #1 Draft Pick: A.J. Puk

On Monday, the Phillies named 35-year old Dartmouth graduate Matt Klentak as their new club General Manager. One of the big decisions which Klentak and his team will be making during their first year at the helm is the selection of the #1 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft next June.

While there is currently no clear, industry-wide favorite to be selected with that top pick, the 2016 draft features many talented players who could help accelerate the Phillies’ rebuilding process.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be profiling some of the more likely candidates among the potential players whom the Phillies might select, beginning here with University of Florida left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk.

Puk completed his sophomore season at Florida in the spring of 2015, posting a 3.81 ERA with 104 strikeouts and 35 walks in 78 innings pitched for the Gators. While his ERA and walk rate were both a bit high, his 12 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched showed that he can be dominating. That type of swing-and-miss stuff is exactly what you want in a front-of-the-rotation starter.

Listed at #1 on Baseball America’s Top 20 Team USA Baseball Collegiate National Team prospect list in August, Puk throws a mid-90s fastball and features a change-up and slider as his secondary pitches. At 6’7, Puk is able to maintain good downward action, and he stays low in the strike zone. Puk pitched a dozen innings for Team USA as well, and had a 2.25 ERA with 9 strikeouts and two walks.

In the 2015 SEC Tournament against the Arkansas Razorbacks, Puk pitched a dominant seven shutout innings, with three walks and 11 strikeouts. He also pitched in the 2015 College World Series, going 5.1 innings and giving up one run while striking out 5. Florida would be knocked out by the eventual College World Series champions from the University of Virginia.

According to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly, the Phillies brass is high on Puk. The club believes that he could work his way through the minors quickly ala Aaron Nola, who made his major league debut in July 2015, a little more than a year after being drafted in June of 2014.

In his introductory press conference with the Phillies last week, Klentak stressed how important good pitching is for a contending team:

“...if you can pitch, you have a chance to win every single night,” Klentak said. “The New York Mets are demonstrating that right now. They’re riding it all the way to the World Series and perhaps to a championship. If you can pitch, you have a chance. That will absolutely become an organizational focus for us.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the Mets young, dominant pitching staff had them poised for a long postseason run. They are now the National League Champions, and playing the Kansas City Royals in the 2015 World Series.

Though the Mets are currently trailing by two games to none, there were few who expected them to win the NL East division, let alone a National League pennant. They may be down but they are not out thanks to their incredible rotation.

Klentak’s strong words in regards to pitching would seem to indicate a strong possibility of the club selecting a pitcher with the #1 overall pick. However, much can happen between now and June.

If Puk can maintain and even improve upon his past results during the 2016 collegiate baseball season, it should come as no surprise if MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred steps to the podium next June and announces his name as having been selected by the Philadelphia Phillies with the #1 pick in the 2016 MLB Draft.