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CEDAR RAPIDS — It took a little longer than you might have thought, but there were reasons behind that. And if he stays healthy, A.J. Puk is going to win more than his fair share of professional baseball games.
The former Cedar Rapids Washington prep won his first game as a pro last week, as his Stockton Ports shellacked San Jose, 13-2, at Stockton, Calif. The Ports are the high-Class A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.
Puk was Oakland’s first-round draft pick last June out of the University of Florida. The sixth-overall pick went 17 games before recording a ‘W.’
After signing last year, the A’s gave the 6-foot-7 left-hander 10 starts for half-season-A Vermont but limited him to just 32 2/3 innings because of his college workload. It has been much the same at Stockton where the Ports have had eight pitchers piggybacking (four pairs of two).
That philosophy has now changed, with Stockton going with a more traditional five-man starting staff. That allowed Puk to work five scoreless innings, although he needed only 67 pitches to get through them.
He struck out nine.
With the five-man rotation, we’ll be able to get more side work,” he told milb.com. “With the eight-man rotation, I usually didn’t throw a side because we’d be going every other day off the mound and now I’m just going to be able to get some work in during the week, which I think will be really beneficial.”
Puk went into the weekend with a 4.26 earned run average in seven appearances, four starts. His WHIP is an outstanding 0.99, and he has struck out 42 in 25 2/3 innings.
The hope, at least around his hometown, was that he’d begin this season in the Midwest League with Beloit, but reports said he threw well in spring training and deserved the double-jump to high-A. Puk took part in major league spring training before being sent back to the minor-league side.
His stuff is undeniable. He’s got a mid to high-90s fastball and a wipeout slider. Control always has been a question mark, considering his considerable size.
He felt his slider was outstanding agaist San Jose.
“My past couple outings, my slider just didn’t have the break at the end of it like it had at the beginning of the year,” he told milb.com. “In my side work this week, I was just able to get focused on getting my slider back, and it happened tonight.”
Puk is Oakland’s No. 2 prospect, according to Baseball America, and widely regarded as a top-100 prospect overall.
AROUND THE HORN
• The Cedar Rapids Kernels placed starting pitcher Tyler Wells on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder impingement. Wells was 2-0 with a 2.65 earned run average in six starts and is the second C.R. starter to be DLed the first month-plus of the Midwest League season. Alex Schick made two starts, then was shelved with an elbow injury. He has not begun throwing again, yet, and did not make the trip with the team this week to Dayton and Bowling Green.
• Two of the top three hitters in the Midwest League going into Saturday have familiar fathers. Lansing’s Bo Bichette led the MWL with a .356 batting average. He’s the son of former longtime big-league outfielder Dante Bichette. Lansing’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was third at .340. His father was an all-star outfielder for clubs like the Montreal Expos and Los Angeles Angels.
• Second baseman Luis Arraez, last season’s MWL batting champ for the Cedar Rapids Kernels, had surgery recently to repair a torn ACL in his knee, incurred during an April game for the high-Class A Fort Myers Miracle. He will miss the rest of the season.
HOW THEY'RE DOING
Joel Booker (University of Iowa) — Outfielder still hitting a robust .322 in 29 games for low-Class A Kannapolis (White Sox). Has five doubles, two triples, 14 RBIs and seven stolen bases.
Matt Dermody (University of Iowa) — Pitcher is 1-0 in nine appearances, one start, for Triple-A Buffalo (Blue Jays). Has a 4.26 earned run average.
Mitch Keller (Cedar Rapids Xavier) — Starting pitcher did not allow an earned run over 4 2/3 innings in his last start for high-A Bradenton (Pirates). Is 3-1 with a 2.54 ERA in seven starts this season and has an outstanding WHIP of 0,87.
Derrick Loveless (Solon) — Outfielder is 4-for-21 in seven games since being promoted to Double-A New Hampshire (Blue Jays). Also has three RBIs.
A.J. Puk (Cedar Rapids Washington) — Went five innings Friday night for high-A Stockton, allowing two earned runs and striking out seven against Lancaster. Is Is 1-4 with a 4.15 ERA in eight appearances, five starts, this season.
Scott Schebler (Cedar Rapids Prairie) — Cincinnati Reds outfielder has raised his batting average to .252 in 33 games. Has nine homers (second on the team) and 20 RBIs. Went 3-for-7 in Cincy’s 17-inning loss Friday night at San Francisco.
Eric Toole (University of Iowa) — Outfielder is 2-for-14 in four games for low-A Asheville (Rockies). Those hits were a double and home run.
Jake Yacinich (University of Iowa) — Shortstop hitting .186 in 22 games for high-A Inland Empire (Angels), with two homers and six RBIs.
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