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Royals select Pepperdine RHP AJ Puckett 67th overall

We have a pick!

Shotgun Spratlin

With their only pick on day one of the draft the Royals take Pepperdine right hander AJ Puckett at 67th overall. Puckett is a very interesting case both on and off the field.

On the field Puckett is a 6'4" 200 pound right hander with a slender-ish frame that could perhaps grow just a bit. He features a slightly above average fastball that can touch 94-95 MPH but his calling card is a near plus changeup at 83-85 with excellent movement. His third pitch curveball is further behind his other two and might only peak at an average 50 grade.

Mechanically there are questions with the pace of his delivery. He needs to make some adjusts to fix his fringey command but there is a lot of timing and motion in his delivery that needs to stay in sync for his to pitch with consistency.

Puckett made some headlines when he went 42.2 innings straight without allowing an earned run. Statistically he's been much better in this his junior year than previously.

2014 19 3.58 23 1 50.1 44 24 20 3 24 43 4 2 1.35 7.87 0.54 4.29 7.69 1.79
2015 20 4.35 15 15 97.1 102 49 47 6 31 81 6 1 1.37 9.43 0.55 2.87 7.49 2.61
2016 21 1.27 14 14 99.1 65 22 14 2 26 95 6 0 0.92 5.89 0.18 2.36 8.61 3.65
Total - 2.95 52 30 247 211 95 81 11 81 219 16 3 1.18 7.69 0.4 2.95 7.98 2.7

You can see he was a completely different pitcher his Junior year this year by ERA, HR, WHIP, H/9, K/9, you name it. That of course is one of the reasons for that long earned run-less streak. He also ran a .242 BABIP as well.

There is some variance and indecisiveness on what Puckett may be. The max ceiling is he brings his command more in line, his curveball comes around and he's a #4, possibly #3 starter. The more median outcome though is that the command improves a bit to become average, and there is a slight bump in his curveball to get it up to average as well. That's more of a bullpen piece or a #5 starter.

Off the field though Puckett is an amazing story. He was a promising football players in high school but one day while "horsing around" he hit his head. This led to Puckett suffering a left partial hematoma and doctors decided to induce him into a coma while the swelling and clotting healed. Then he had small plates inserted into his skull and of course his football career was now over.

I'd imagine Puckett will debut in Idaho Falls if he signs (which he should).


Scouting Grades: Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 45 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 45

For a young man who spent two weeks in a coma in high school, just being able to function in this world is a win. But Puckett, a one-time two-sport standout who gave up football after an epidural hematoma, has done just more than that, becoming Pepperdine's Friday night starter as a junior, reeling off a 45 2/3 innings scoreless streak, and putting himself in position to be a Day 1 draftee.

The 6-foot-4 Puckett has always shown solid pitchability, but some added velocity this year has certainly upped his profile. The right-hander has been up to 94 mph consistently this spring and has combined that fastball with an excellent changeup. While his curveball is still fringy, he's tightened it up quite a bit and it should be a third at-least average pitch in time. He can pitch to both sides of the plate, commanding his arsenal very well.

There is still some projection in Puckett's frame and that combined with his pitchability, was making him a very intriguing college arm as the Draft arrived.

From Baseball Prospectus

67. Kansas City Royals: A.J. Puckett, RHP, Pepperdine

The Puckett story is a fascinating one (I wholeheartedly recommend Googling him after you read this) and it's awesome to see him recover from his trials and tribulations. Both the fastball and change are above average, and he throws strikes with all three pitches. The curveball needs a lot of work, but if it can be even average, he's pitching in a rotation.

From Baseball Prospectus earlier this spring

A.J. Puckett, RHP, Pepperdine University

Puckett boasts a solid, filled-out frame at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, with long legs and a strong base. There's some rigidity in his initial rock, and it teams with a quick early tempo, a high leg kick, and some hesitation as he gathers force at the top of the drive to create some tempo issues. His is a long body, and his timing to the point of release will waver. The arm action is quick and short, utilizing a tight arm path to a high three-quarters slot. He clears his hips efficiently and generates a powerful, long stride to a consistent foot strike. Everything on the back end of the delivery is clean, with a fluid finish and easy arm deceleration.

He worked off a relatively straight fastball with plus 91-94 velocity all night, topping a couple times at 95 (including once in the eighth inning). He struggled to command the pitch out of the gate, getting too quick with his lower half and frequently leaving his arm a tick slow. That led to some elevated pitches, and with minimal movement, hitters had little trouble squaring up his mistakes. It's an average present pitch with some room to jump into 55 territory with more consistent command. He leaned on his secondaries with increasing frequency to settle into a groove, working in a curve that ran from 73-77 mph depending on how he manipulated its shape, and a change in the low 80s that stayed on plane with some fade. His change generated some weaker contact, though his arm speed slowed and his command of it wandered. The hook showed similar inconsistency; he trusted the pitch, front-dooring it on occasion and working a slower version into the zone to steal strikes. But it humped out of his hand and rolled at times, and A&M hitters squared a few early on. Neither looked like more than an average pitch with refinement, though there was some raw material there to work with.

Solid sequencing and better execution helped him settle in after giving up four early runs, and he worked efficiently through 4 2/3 shutout innings after giving up runs in each of the first three frames. The pitch mix kept hitters off his fastball, he hit his spots on the regular, and he missed barrels. That will be his profile when he's going good, but the straight heater and raw secondaries will give him a thinner margin for developmental error. It's more of a back-end or swingman profile, but it's one that'll get him drafted in the first ten rounds.

If you want my take on Puckett I have a few thoughts.

  • I won't belabor the point of contention I've had with the Royals drafting pitchers with their first few picks but if they had to take one I'd rather it be a college guy with a good changeup
  • I'm concerned about the poor curveball and meh command. College guys don't necessarily have a ton of projection overall and it's not super easy to change a college guys mechanics, especially with Puckett who relies on momentum.
  • I had several players still left on my board that were consensus better players than Puckett

If they were going to go college guy I would have much more preferred Heath Quinn, a power bat who destroyed the Cap Cod League and has an excellent arm in right field. Obviously the Royals see Puckett as a starter but if they did want a guy who could potentially be a reliever I would have rather had Chad Hockin who has much better stuff.

That's of course without even mentioning fellow college righty Connor Jones who was a consensus top 20ish talent and he didn't have much leverage to not sign really (the Royals would get a comp pick next year if he didn't). There was also several prep hitters still left that I really liked.

One final thing I want to talk about though is what the Royals could do next at pick 103. Puckett isn't a signability concern as it's very hard to see his stock getting much better than it is now and as a college guy he has less leverage than a high schooler. The Royals could perhaps think about signing him for underslot and using the savings there to take one of the better remaining prep guys (whether it be a hitter or pitcher) in the 3rd round with the money saved. Having said that the 2nd round isn't usually where teams start playing slot games. Instead usually it's teams with multiple first round or so picks.

Day 2 of the draft will continue tomorrow as we'll get rounds 3-10 before moving on to 11-40 Saturday afternoon.