The MLB Draft took place Thursday evening with teams making 66 selections before the defending World Champions had a swing at the plate. With so many selections taking place in front of the Royals combined by the champions lack of available spending in their pool ($3.2M), it was highly unlikely for them to make a big splash at their spot. The Royals selection of A.J. Puckett from the Pepperdine Waves program represented a more polished and successful pitcher than they have selected over the past few draft cycles.
With the Pac-10 light on talent this season, the West Coast Conference stepped up to provide scouts plenty of names to checkout on Friday nights. From the 65th pick by the Dodgers, Mitchell White, to likely early pick tomorrow in Gio Brusa, the Royals selection may have been the best of the bunch. Riding a 45.2 consecutive scoreless innings streak this season Puckett finished the season with a ridiculously low 1.27 ERA in 99.1 innings while tossing a sub-1 WHIP (0.92) onto opponents. The Friday starter for Pepperdine gave up two earned runs on March 4th to Tulane before embarking on the streak which carried him until May 5th before he gave up another run. It was the third longest streak in college baseball history, behind only 1954-55 George Plender’s 60 and University of Tennessee’s Todd Helton’s 47 (yes, that Todd Helton). Not only had the scoreless streak lasted that long but the earned run streak had stretched 57.1 innings in that time.
6-4 200 lbs
Birthdate – 5/27/1995
College – Pepperdine
Hometown – Concord, CA
Scouts Rich Ameral and Rich White
Comparison in the current farm system – Lonnie Goldberg, scouting director likened him to Kyle Zimmer and Alec Mills as an athletic righthander who throws strikes.
How did he get to this level? According to an article by Zach Helfland in the Los Angeles Times, changes by his pitching coach, Jon Strauss, in the Cape Cod League took hold and a shortened leg kick helped Puckett’s ability to locate his fastball and repeat his delivery. That more repeatable delivery combined with a change-up that many already see as a plus pitch with a knack for varying speeds and locations was too much for college hitters. At Pepperdine, Puckett used his over the top curveball as his go to breaking ball, but Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg said Thursday night that he believes the slider is coming and could be the better breaking pitch moving forward.
Using both a two seam and four seam fastball, Puckett can dial up to the 95 mph range with arm side life or use the two seam model with cut that sits in the high 80s to low 90s. For the most part the fastball works in the 91-93 mph range during his starts with good control. Exhibiting a feel for spin should help A.J. refine both breaking balls while using good arm speed and fade on his change up with a 10 mph difference between the fastball should be enough to get him through the low minors relatively quickly. If he can maintain the workout regimen and long-toss routine that allowed his body to add strength and stamina this past season, one would hope the velocity is maintained would be maintained in pro ball.
Royals conference call audio
A car accident after his sophomore year at football powerhouse De La Salle forced Puckett to give up the game and concentrate on his pitching craft. It paid off in getting drafted by his boyhood team the A’s in high school before deciding to head to college at one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation. An Oakland A’s fan since childhood Puckett tries to model his game after former Athletics hurler Tim Hudson. Should the Royals be lucky enough to get 9/10 the production from Puckett as Hudson gave the teams he played for, they will be doing quite well indeed, but only time will tell.