Monday, February 22, 2016

Phillies present for A.J. Puk's debut in Gainesville


By PATRICK GORDON | Managing Editor
February 22, 2016, 12:00 P.M. EST
@PGordonPBR

A.J. Puk took the mound on Saturday night in Gainesville with more than 70 big-league scouts in attendance to watch his 2016 debut with the University of Florida.

According to sources, the Phillies accounted for at least four of those scouts, including Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick.

Puk, 20, is the top-ranked college prospect in the nation, according to Baseball America. A tall (6-foot-7) left-handed pitcher, he's often compared to David Price and Chris Sale, two other college lefties who were selected high in the draft.

In case you forgot, the Phillies have the top pick in this year's amateur draft.

Puk's name began circulating as a potential target last fall. He finished 9-4 in 2015 with a 3.81 ERA, with 104 strikeouts in 78 innings.

On Saturday he struck out six over four innings while allowing four runs - all unearned - in an 8-4 victory over Florida Gulf Coast University . He walked one, surrendered four hits, and tossed 70 pitches; needing 32 to get out of a tough third inning highlighted by a pair of errors.

"[Puk] was a little off, but it's to be expected given it's the first game of the season," said an American League scout in attendance.

Puk has an excellent fastball, topping out in the high-90's. He also throws a plus curve and is working on improving an already strong change-up. The only knock against him to this point is a 3.98 BB/9 ratio over his college career.

Phillies officials have already met several times with Puk and it's certain the club will have scouts watching his every start with the Gators this season.

"He projects well," the scout said. "He's lanky but his mechanics are fluid and he has a fine release point. He knows how to pitch, not just throw, and that's a big thing to keep in mind."

Along with Puk, the Phillies also have their eyes on fellow Florida pitcher Logan Shore and New Jersey product Jay Groome.

"There's some nice talent in this year's pool," the scout said. "That's what makes this part of the year so entertaining. You go out, see these guys pitch, and often the best rises to the top."

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