Minor League Sports

A.J. Puk of Cedar Rapids excels in first appearance since 2017: Minor league baseball notebook

Oakland Athletics prospect throws 2 innings for high-A Stockton

A.J. Puk pitching for the University of Florida. (Madison Schultz/University of Florida Athletics Association)

Florida pitcher A.J. Puk, who prepped at Cedar Rapids Washington, pitches earlier this season. Puk could be the first overall pick in Thursday's MLB Draft.
A.J. Puk pitching for the University of Florida. (Madison Schultz/University of Florida Athletics Association) Florida pitcher A.J. Puk, who prepped at Cedar Rapids Washington, pitches earlier this season. Puk could be the first overall pick in Thursday's MLB Draft.

CEDAR RAPIDS — He’s healthy. Not much doubt about that.

Former Cedar Rapids Washington prep A.J. Puk pitched in an official game for the first time in about a year and a half Tuesday night when he started for the high-Class A Stockton Ports against San Jose.

Puk, 24, injured his left, throwing elbow in spring training last year and underwent Tommy John surgery. A first-round draft pick of the Oakland Athletics, sixth overall, in 2016 out of the University of Florida, he missed all of last season and remained in extended spring training this season until being sent to the California League.

Puk went two innings, walked one and allowed a solo home run to San Jose’s Heliot Ramos, a San Francisco Giants prospect. He struck out four.

Jesus Luzardo, another big pitching prospect for Oakland who is recovering from injury, followed Puk into the game.

“I kind of just warned them to use this as a learning tool,” Stockton pitching coach Chris Smith told MiLB.com. “This is A.J.’s first time back in a while, so he’s going to have this energy when he goes to Double-A, and then he’s going to have this energy when he goes to Triple-A, and then he’s going to have this energy when he goes [to the big leagues].

“These are all learning things that you can learn from with that high energy, not just because it’s an A-ball aspect, but he’s going to have this high energy as something he can benefit from if he can harness it.”

Puk’s fastball registered regularly 98 and 99 miles per hour. His slider also is considered a potential wipeout pitch.

The Athletics have said the southpaw will remain in the bullpen the rest of this season, as he continues to build himself back up and make his way through the minor leagues. If he continues to progress, he is expected to make his big-league debut at some point this season.

The same is expected for Luzardo. A’s starter Seth Manaea also has been out with injury but should return at some point.

“Whether it’s him, whether it’s Puk, whether it’s Luzardo, now they’re kind of on the clock,” Oakland Manager Bob Melvin told The Mercury News. “Those are three high-profile guys. It’s not here, yet, and they have to go on a pace with no setbacks to get back to us, and we hope that’s the case. In the back of everybody’s minds (is) we feel we can get better if we add those three guys.

“They looked great. Puk’s first four pitches were 99 from what I understand. An easy 99. And Luzardo was at 97, so everybody was pretty happy with the way things went.”

Midwest League playoff scenarios

The Cedar Rapids Kernels went into Saturday night’s home game against Clinton a game behind Burlington for second place in the Midwest League’s Western Division with two games left for each team. Quad Cities has wrapped the first-half division championship, with the C.R.-Burlington survivor acquiring the other available playoff spot in the half. Burlington is playing at Peoria. Should the Kernels and Bees finish tied, Cedar Rapids wins the tiebreaker because it has a better head-to-head record.

Great Lakes has clinched the Eastern Division. Lake County’s magic number over Bowling Green for second place stood at 1 going into Saturday night.

Tuesday night is the Midwest League All-Star Game at South Bend, Ind. Three Kernels will participate: starting designated hitter Chris Williams and pitcher Josh Winder and first baseman Gabe Snyder. The second half of the season begins Thursday night for everyone, with Cedar Rapids having a four-game series at Peoria.

Craig Kimbrel in Des Moines

Newly signed Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel is expected to make multiple appearances for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs before heading back to the major leagues.

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Kimbrel inked a free-agent deal with the Cubs last week. He has not pitched since the end of last season, thus he likely will eased back into things.

Iowa begins a nine-game homestand Thursday against Round Rock.

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