The top of the 2016 is rather muddled at present with no clear favorite to go first overall. New Jersey high school lefty Jason Groome remains a top candidate but his recent suspension for a high school residence violation adds some uncertainty to the mix. Another lefty with a chance to go first-overall is University of Florida southpaw A.J. Puk but he has his own set of issues.
Puk was mentioned in 1-1 conversations before the college season began but his spring has been somewhat erratic and he hasn't been the completely consistent dominator scouts were looking for. There's still buzz that he could go first, and if not first he would not be likely to get past the top few picks. He's still been very good.
A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Puk is a 6-7, 230 pound lefty born April 15, 1995. He was a candidate for the top two rounds out of high school but his very strong University of Florida commitment scared teams off and he fell to the 35th round, drafted by the Detroit Tigers.
He didn't sign of course. In 2014 he was used as both a starter and reliever by the Gators, posting a 3.35 ERA in 40 innings with a 44/18 K/BB, very solid for a freshman. He started 14 games and relieved in three more in 2015, posting a 3.81 ERA in 78 innings with a 104/35 K/BB. By the end of the spring he was hitting 97-98 with the fastball and showing a greatly improved slider.
The plan for 2016 was to put everything together and vault to the top of the draft. On the positive side, his numbers have improved: through nine starts he has a 3.07 ERA with a 55/16 K/BB in 41 innings with just 29 hits allowed. He's maintained the strikeout pace from last year while lowering his walks, obviously a good thing.
However, not everything has gone as expected. His velocity was down early in the year, more in the 92-95 range, still plenty for a lefty but not draw-dropping. His slider and change-up were also inconsistent early, though both are still promising. Puk was felled by back spasms in a game against Texas A&M on April 3rd and missed a start, but came back throwing well and fanned 10 hitters against just one walk in 6.2 innings against Georgia in his last start. The higher velocity readings are popping up again and he's been as high as 99 this month.
Bottom line: although Puk's stock hasn't yet solidified as the top arm in the draft, he is still an elite talent and has shown some command improvements compared to last year. Barring a late injury he will certainly go very early, unlikely to get past the top five. If he pitches well down the stretch (and it looks like that may happen if his last start is any indicator), he could still very well go 1-1.
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