It’s time for me to end speculation as to whom I believe the Phillies should select with that #1 overall draft selection. For me, that pick is University of Florida left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk.
Puk is a Junior majoring in Criminology at Florida, but his degree is likely going to have to wait a bit. After he is selected at or near the top of the draft, someone is going to be throwing millions of dollars at him and his family.
At 6’7″, 230 pounds, and with a fastball that has regularly hit the upper-90’s, comfortably sitting in the mid-90’s, Puk is no finesse left-hander. This is an advanced 21-year old who, much as with Aaron Nola before him, should not take very much developmental time at all.
With a pitcher like Puk, you are talking a summer of 2017 big league debut in all likelihood. At that point he would join Nola and Vincent Velasquez, as well as whatever others emerge from among the talented young arms the Phillies have percolating in the minors in making up an all-under-25 rotation.
New GM Matt Klentak emphasized pitching as soon as he took the reigns: “If you can pitch, you have a chance,” he said during his introductory news conference. “That will absolutely become an organizational focus for us, to add pitching at every turn. In trades, through waiver claims, in the draft, internationally, free agency. However we need to do it, we will add pitching, pitching, pitching. Because if you can pitch, you have a chance to win every night.”
Klentak is absolutely right. And frankly, you never have enough. Anyone who points to the Phillies recent arms buildup that now includes Nola, Velasquez, and Jerad Eickhoff at the big league level, and pitchers such as Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Mark Appel, Ben Lively, Franklyn Kilome, Ricardo Pinto and more in the minors and thinks they have enough simply does not know this game.
As talented as these pitchers are, and as promising as their future looks, both as individuals and as a group, the fact is that all of them will not work out. Some will break down physically. Some will simply plateau, and be fortunate to find a bullpen role in the big leagues. Some may become valuable relief arms for the Phillies.
The Phillies will feel very fortunate if, a couple of years from now, four or five of these young pitchers are actually in their rotation, are healthy, and are productive winners. Most teams never find such a mix from their farm system.
As both a Freshman and Sophomore, Puk was named to the All-SEC Academic Honor Roll. Last spring, he came up big in the postseason for the Gators, compiling a 1.54 ERA in four starts, with a 2-1 record and 30 strikeouts in 23.1 innings.
Last summer, both Baseball America and Perfect Game, two of the top prospect evaluation sources in the sport, named Puk as the top prospect on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. This season, Puk allowed just 36 hits in 50.1 innings over 11 starts, with a 71/25 K:BB ratio.
The selection of Puk is certainly no slam-dunk. Frankly, no one could tell you right now exactly who the Phillies will select with any certainty. There are no Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg types at the top of this draft, clear #1 picks.
“We will take the best player — high school, college, position player, pitcher,” Klentak said back in the fall, and there are other possibilities.
The leading candidates aside from Puk at this point appear to be high school pitchers Jason Groome and Riley Pint, college outfielders Corey Ray and Kyle Lewis, college 3rd baseman Nick Senzel, high school shortstop Delvin Perez, and high school outfielders Blake Rutherford and Mickey Moniak.
This is my pick, not the Phillies. I have always been big on college players over high schoolers, especially where pitching is concerned. To me, Puk is a left-handed version of Nola, as far as nearness to big league ready, and may even have a tad higher ceiling.
That’s my pick. Later in the month, our entire staff will weigh in with their selections. And as we hit the beginning of June, you can expect even more coverage of the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft, especially where it concerns our Fightin’ Phils.
Who do you think the club should select, and why? Feel free to leave us a comment.