Player: A.J. Puk
DOB: April 25, 1995 (21 years old)
Height/Weight: 6'7", 230 lbs
Previously Drafted: 2013 (35th Round, DET)
A.J. Puk possesses the all the tools to be a front-line starter at the highest level, which has made his inconsistent play at the University of Florida that much more confounding.
Ranked as the No. 85 prospect in the 2013 draft class by Baseball America, he slipped to the 35th round due to signability concerns and ended up in Gainesville.
After being used primarily out of the bullpen during his freshman season, he joined the Gators rotation as a sophomore and quickly established himself as one to watch at the top of the 2016 draft class.
He finished the season 9-4 with a 3.81 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 78.0 innings, turning it on late to earn SEC All-Tournament Team and Gainesville Regional All-Tournament Team spots thanks to a pair of postseason gems.
Puk's junior season got off to a slow start, and he saw his stock begin to slip a bit, but he rounded into form as the spring wore on and once again asserted himself as the top college arm in the country in terms of draft stock and upside.
In 15 starts for the Gators, he's gone 2-3 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.157 WHIP and .195 opponent batting average. He's struck out 95 batters and walked 31 in 70.0 innings of work. It's been a bit of a mixed bag, as his 12.2 K/9 opens eyes, but so does his 4.0 BB/9, and for the wrong reasons.
At any rate, 6'7" lefties with power stuff and ace upside aren't exactly a dime a dozen, and Puk has done more than enough this season to keep the hype train rolling.
With a three-pitch repertoire that can be overpowering at times and the big frame to be a workhorse, continued improvement in the command department will ultimately be what determines just how good Puk can be.
Baseball America provided the following scouting report:
Puk was inconsistent at the start of the season and was briefly sidelined by back spasms. But he has since rounded into form and again looks the part of dominant starter.
Puk throws his fastball in the mid to upper 90s and thanks to the downhill angle and the excellent extension his 6-foot-7 frame enables him to get, the pitch plays up even further. Puk's slider and changeup both could use further refinement, but both have a chance to develop into average offerings. His slider sits in the mid-80s with horizontal sweeping action, though it can sometimes back up.
Puk repeats his arm slot well and gets his torso over his front side consistently. When he stays balanced and online, he is very difficult for hitters to square up, even if they make contact. He throws a lot of strikes, particularly for someone of his size, and can locate his fastball to both sides of the plate.
There are probably safer picks among this year's crop of college arms, but none have the upside of Puk, who could wind up being the marquee player from this class 10 years from now.
MLB Player Comparison: Andrew Miller
The hope will be that Puk takes a smoother path to contributing than Andrew Miller did, but there are certainly worse players to be compared to.
Miller was the No. 6 selection in the 2006 draft with hopes that he would quickly emerge as a front-line starter. However, he entered the 2012 season with a 5.79 ERA and 1.750 WHIP in 359.1 career innings, and the Boston Red Sox made the career-changing decision to move him to the bullpen full-time.
He's taken since making the transition and parlayed a terrific 2014 season into a four-year, $36 million deal with the New York Yankees.
Just like Puk, Miller is a 6'7" left-hander who generates plenty of swings-and-misses with a mid-90s fastball and a plus slider.
Puk will be given every chance to stick as a starter, but the best player to compare him to right now appears to be one of the game's premier relievers.
Projection: Ace-caliber starter if he continues to display plus command, late-inning reliever if he doesn't.
Major League ETA: 2020
Chances of Signing: 99 percent
Even with an inconsistent performance in his junior season, Puk has consistently been viewed as one of the elite arms of this year's class. It's hard to see him boosting his stock or making himself more money with a return to Florida.
All college stats courtesy of The Baseball Cube, unless otherwise noted, and current through Wednesday, June 8.