A.J. Puckett certainly paved an interesting road to the pros, one that may not have been heading into his junior season in high school. Since the Kansas City Royals drafted Puckett in the second round of the MLB Draft this past June, he is showing that he is well worth the investment, and the Royals were lucky he slipped to them.
Puckett played football for Concord De La Salle High School in California, while also a pitcher on their baseball team. Ready to take over as the starting quarterback heading into his junior season, Puckett suffered an epidural hematoma messing around with his friends.
He was placed into a medically induced coma to help stop the bleeding. After months of being idle, he was told that football was no longer an option, but baseball could be.
He certainly made the most of that option.
Despite being drafted by his favorite team — the Oakland Athletics — in the 35th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, Puckett opted to head to Pepperdine to hone his craft. A modest freshman and sophomore campaign didn’t really have him high on anyone’s radar. His junior season — one that wasn’t simply good, but historically great — had him quickly climb the draft board.
Puckett went 9-3 in his junior season, posting a 1.27 ERA and striking out 95 batters while walking just 26 in 99.1 innings. What caught people’s attention — the nation’s attention, to be precise — was when he hurled 45.2 consecutive innings of shutout baseball. It was the third-longest streak in NCAA DI history. In fact, he went 57.1 innings without allowing an earned run to cross the plate.
He was officially on the radar. Standing at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, and already reporting an uptick in his velocity, he has the frame that he could still grow into a bit more, maybe even add a little more zip to that fastball. He doesn’t have an overwhelming arsenal, but he has made his way behind solid command of the strike zone, showing an ability to work his pitches low as well as on both sides of the plate.
He brings a fastball that MLB Pipeline reports sits between 90-92, with some scouts having seen him hit 95.
His changeup is an out pitch and his second-best offering, while his curveball is one of his improving secondary pitches. His slider may or may not ever come to fruition, but there have been whispers that he is working on it.
The Royals quickly signed the polished right hander to a $1.2 million signing bonus, approximately $300,000 over slot value. It was the first time since 1990 that the Royals did not have a first-rounder, most of them being very high first-round picks at that, so they had a little wiggle room in their spendings.
Two days after signing his deal, Puckett was on the mound in the Arizona League. He went three innings, allowing just two hits and walking none while striking out four. He was the victim of some errors and took the loss, surrendering two unearned runs.
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