With the 2015 college season and MLB draft finished, let's begin to take a look at the top college talent available in next year's draft. I will do this throughout the summer and fall. Feel free to make suggestion of other guys to cover. I will also put a poll at the bottom of the page for folks to vote on who they want me to cover next.
The inaugural subject of our 2016 MLB draft prospect write-ups is none other than the big lefty from the University of Florida, A.J. Puk. Why, you ask? Well because he has awesome stuff. Oh, and I mock drafted him in our 2013 community mock draft. If that isn't reason enough, I don't know what is.
Puk was seen as a top 100 draft prospect in 2013, out of Washington High in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I personally ranked him 80th in the draft class, thanks to a low-90s fastball, a promising breaking ball and change-up, and the projection his frame offered. Some even had him higher, but a strong commitment to college saw him fall to the 35th round where the Tigers tried to woo him to Detroit. Detroit versus Gainesville rarely ends in Detroit's favor, however, and Puk went south to start his college career. He was going to be a bit of a project in pro ball though, trying to get his 6'7" frame and the resulting mechanics in order. Because of that, college may have been the better decision for him.
His Freshman season saw him 5-2 with a 3.19 ERA, 9.8 K/9, and 2.6 K/BB over 42.1 innings. He had seven starts mixed in with 13 relief appearances. That was good enough to land him on Baseball America's Freshmen All-American team. He was the top prospect in 2014's Northwoods League according to Perfect Game, where in two starts and 8.2 innings pitched he had a 2.08 ERA and ten strikeouts - although with an ugly eleven walks to match.
Coming into his Sophomore season, he was still a bit of an enigma, with the potential to be a top college arms but still a bit rough around the edges. On April 11th, he sat at a 6-3 record with an ugly 5.87 ERA over 38.1 innings. On April 12th, he and teammate Kirby Snead were arrested for trespassing, as they decided to break into a construction site and climb one of the cranes. He avoided jail time, and community service will keep his record clean.
But it may have been the best thing for him, as he used the incident to re-focus on his baseball career. After the arrest, he went 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA and a 59/16 K/BB ratio over his final 39.2 IP, including a five inning, one run, five strikeout performance in a 1-0 loss to eventual College World Series champions Virginia. This summer, he is pitching on the Team USA Collegiate National Team. To date, he's thrown 4.2 innings, with one earned run and four walks to one strikeout.
Going into 2016, Puk is at least one of the twenty best draft prospects, and he's in my top ten personally. The 6'7", 230 pound lefty has seen his fastball velocity increase into the mid-90s as a Sophomore, including hitting 99 on the radar gun in the SEC tournament against the Arkansas Razorbacks. The loopy curveball from high school has been replaced by a tight slider that sits in the low to mid 80s. His change-up was advanced for a cold-weather prepster, and he's continued to refine it into a weapon, especially against right-handed hitters. He's got a big stride that leads him close to where grass-meets-mound, which combined with his velocity has the ball get on the batter in a hurry.
His strikeout potential is without question, as his 12.0 K/9 rate was second in the nation, behind new Detroit Tiger prospect (formerly of Missouri State) Matt Hall. The question is around his control, as the 4.0 BB/9 has to come down. That will be the difference between him being a first round pick, and him being a top five pick in next June's MLB draft. I do think the change in his mechanics, starting from a sideways, almost stretch position, in his wind-up, will definitely help quiet things down and keep his mechanics more repeatable. All in all, there's a lot to love from a draft prospect perspective with A.J. Puk.