OAKLAND — The A’s officially welcomed first-round draft pick A.J. Puk into the fold Thursday, and the lefty from the University of Florida made a pretty nice first impression.
Manager Bob Melvin went so far as to compare Puk’s slider to that of former Yankees star Dave Righetti, who has been the longtime pitching coach of the Giants.
“I was saying we should get ‘Rags’ over here because that slider looked like Dave Righetti’s slider, which was one of the best sliders in all of baseball,” Melvin said before Thursday’s Bay Bridge Series game. “It’s just kind of one of those disappearing sliders. It’s exciting to see him on the mound for the first time.”
The 21-year-old Puk was viewed by many as the top overall talent in this year’s draft, and the A’s were thrilled that he fell to them at the No. 6 overall pick. He agreed to a reported signing bonus of $4,069,200, the exact bonus slot recommended for the No. 6 pick. (Teams are allowed to go over-slot to sign a draft pick if they choose but it affects how much they can spend on their other picks in the first 10 rounds).
An imposing figure on the mound at 6-foot-7, Puk throws a fastball that will hit 97 along with a changeup that he’s still honing, but it’s the slider that is his featured secondary pitch. It’s one that he didn’t learn until he got to Florida, when he ditched the curve that he used in high school.
He’ll report to the team’s minor league facility in Mesa on Friday before heading off to the join the A’s short-season Single A club in Vermont. First, he got the royal treatment with the big club. He and his parents, Dave and Chris, had lunch with front office members. Then he came back to the Coliseum, slipped into an A’s uniform and went out to a bullpen mound to throw.
“It’s really exciting. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” said Puk, who posted a 3.05 ERA and struck out 101 in 73 2/3 innings as a junior this season for the Gators.
“I felt really good. It’s been a little bit since I’ve been off the mound. I feel very fresh. It’s good to be out here.”
How fast might he progress through the A’s system? Just for comparison’s sake, Daniel Mengden was a fourth-round draft pick out of Texas A&M in 2014, and he made his debut earlier this month with Oakland. The A’s drafted Sonny Gray in the first round out of the University of Vanderbilt in 2011, and he debuted in the bigs in July 2013.
At whatever rate he progresses, Puk will enter the A’s farm system with some familiar faces. Florida teammate Logan Shore, a right-hander who was the SEC Pitcher of the Year, was the drafted in the second round by the A’s. In between them, the A’s took Cal right-hander Daulton Jefferies 37th overall as a sandwich pick. Puk knows Jefferies from their time as Team USA teammates.
As the draft began, Puk and Shore were keeping in communication. Shore’s adviser had gotten word the A’s were interested in drafting him, so Shore was telling Puk how they might end up teammates if Oakland went with Puk at No. 6.
Then when Puk did go sixth, he happened to get a text from Jefferies.
“He texted me congrats, and I texted him back and said ‘Thanks, I hope the A’ pick you up too,’” Puk recalled. “It turned out the A’s picked him up too, so that was pretty exciting.”