Before we get too far, let's get one thing straight: this probably isn't going to happen. Florida lefthander A.J. Puk has been projected by many to be the No. 1 overall pick in this year's MLB draft, and while recent reports have hinted that the Philadelphia Phillies may go in a different direction, Puk probably won't fall far from that level.
But, as one scout told me earlier this week, "The top 10 is a f***ing mess right now." Anything can happen, and the Tigers just might hit the jackpot and land the promising young lefty. After all, they selected him in the 35th round of the 2013 draft when he was a top 100 overall prospect, only to see him honor his commitment to Florida. Could they nab him the second time around? Let's dream a little bit.
As one might expect with a potential top overall pick, Puk is as polished as pitching prospects come. He sports a mid-90s fastball from the left side, and it has been clocked as high as 99 miles per hour. He came out of high school with a solid changeup, and has added a tight slider to that mix, giving him three quality pitches. MLB Pipeline ranks Puk as the No. 4 overall prospect in this year's draft, and labeled his slider as a potential plus pitch.
Minor League Ball's John Sickels has more.
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.
Tony Wolfe of Red Reporter had similar things to say, and seems very hopeful that Puk falls to Cincinnati at No. 2 overall.
Puk is the kind of player that makes every scout watching him create a puddle of drool around their own feet. He's a 6-foot-7, 230 pound left-hander from the University of Florida who can reach 99 with his fastball and flashes a devastating slider with a plus change-up on his best days...He's been criticized for his lack of dominance this year for Florida, and dealt with some back spasms during the early part of the season. Still, the numbers have been very good, with a 2.88 ERA in 65.2 innings, a 90/31 K/BB line and a .188 opposing batting average.
Puk doesn't come without concerns, though. Cormican of The Good Phight highlighted some of those, though it's worth pointing out that the Phillies' level of scrutiny should be higher with the No. 1 overall selection.
6'7" is an unfortunate height in some ways, as Pitching mechanics can get a bit wonky when Pitchers start trending over 6'5". Puk has had some of that, to combat the issue Florida has had him work more from a more stretch like starting position. His stuff probably gives him a rather high relief floor if the control and command never materialize.
There are also some issues with his landing spot and throwing across his body, resulting in some command issues, but these things are frequently cleaned up with professional instruction. With Puk still garnering plenty of hype as the top pick in the draft, these aren't major concerns by any stretch.
The lack of dominance shouldn't be an issue either. Beyond the Box Score incorporated Puk's college stats into their projections, and he still comes out as one of the very best prospects in this year's crop of players.
Sadly, there isn't much chance that the Tigers get anywhere close to Puk. If he doesn't go first overall, the Reds or Braves likely snatch him up with either of the next couple selections. As a college junior, Puk still has some bargaining power to leverage a higher signing bonus, which might chase some teams away, but not enough to knock him down all the way to ninth on most draft boards.