The Philadelphia Phillies control the first overall selection in the MLB Amateur Draft this coming June, and are scouting a number of players as possible top picks.
This past Saturday, the nation’s top ranked team in NCAA Division I, the Florida Gators, went on the road to take on their in-state rivals, the 6th-ranked Miami Hurricanes in an early season matchup of two of the better college baseball programs in the country.
Why this game was of particular importance to the Phillies was because of who would be on the mound for Florida: left-hander (and potential 1:1 choice in the 2016 draft) A.J. Puk.
I decided to tune in to see what all the fuss was about this young man. If I’m going to be making predictions/guesses/hopes as to whom the team might select with that first pick, it’s best to be as informed as possible about those players by actually watching them if possible, instead of scouting box scores.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit: I am no scout. If you think that you’re getting analysis with a scout’s eye, think again. These are just my educated fan impressions of the young man after seeing him for the first time. I’ve read much of the information about him, but those are all just other points of view. The game of baseball is littered with players who one scout has liked, while another has not particularly cared for at all.
If you aren’t familiar with Puk as yet, I’d suggest starting with a biography written by our own Alexis Girardo back in October. She has been running a series all during the off-season on potential Phillies draft choices, and her writeup gives you the basic lowdown on Puk the player. He was also reviewed at The Good Phight following his season debut.
Coming into last Saturday’s game, I knew the basics on Puk: fastball in the high-90’s, a plus slider, and an average changeup. In the first inning, Puk looked sharp. He threw all fastballs, getting two strikeouts on the pitch to open the frame, and then ended the inning by inducing a ground ball from Miami’s #3 hitter on a slider.
The next two innings were pretty rough for the lefty. He proceeded to surrender five runs in 2 2/3 innings before exiting for the night (for a full recap from gainesville.com, read here.)
Watching Puk was interesting. The first thing you can’t help but notice is his size. The guy is huge at 6’7″ and 230 lbs. You can see that, as Alexis put it, he’s able to work down in the zone.
He seemed to repeat his mechanics pretty well, good enough for a guy his size. The stuff also jumps out at you. Even though the broadcast didn’t have a radar gun available, it was obvious that Puk was working mid-90’s with his fastball. He just plain blew it by the leadoff hitter to start the game and continued to throw it by multiple hitters throughout his start.
His slider was decent (more on that later), and his change-up was rarely used. However, that’s about where the positives ended from my point of view. To me, there were more negatives about this start than positives.
Puk seemed to lose composure pretty quickly
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It was obvious, and the announcers mentioned, that when things didn’t go as Puk wanted, he lost composure on the mound. This was evident in the fact that he hit two batters in his short outing. It wasn’t a pouting, angry thing, but more of a noticeable lack of concentration in key spots. He did get hit by a comebacker to start the second inning, and that bothered him more than I think he let on. But there were several times when Puk left his pitches in extremely hittable locations when he should have been better able to put hitters away. More than once, he tried to rely on old-fashioned velocity to blow hitters away, rather than try to locate. This leads to my next point:
- Puk still needs a lot of work on his control and pitch selection
As I said earlier, he left his pitches in a lot of hittable locations. For example, in the second inning, Puk was in a jam with runners at 1st and 2nd and nobody out. With a 2-2 count to the #6 batter, his first attempt at getting the out was a fastball on the inner half, belt high that the Miami batter just missed. You could tell that Puk wanted to beat him, mano a mano. The next pitch was on the outer half, again belt high. This time, the batter slashed a hit down the third base line to plate the game’s first run.
These were, to me, examples of Puk trying to intimidate a hitter instead of locating better or throwing a better pitch. Another example came in the third inning with the bases loaded and Miami’s best hitter coming up. Puk threw a “get me over” slider that was flat. The batter produced with a two run single that proved to be the decisive runs in the game.
Again, it was a belt high, middle of the plate pitch that lacked good location. These are mistakes that just can’t happen in the professional ranks. When they happen, they will more often than not be crushed.
I understand that it was only Puk’s second game of the year, and the adrenaline was pumping as he faced a top team right out of the chute. He’ll hopefully settle down as the year moves forward and establish himself as the top college arm available in the draft.
What I observed on Saturday were, however, very real concerns. This is especially so from someone who also had a slow start last season. Should the Phillies in fact select him with the top pick, let’s hope their minor league coaches are able to clean up these and any other issues so he can become a key cog for the next Phillies contender.