The KC Royals drafted 21-year-old Pepperdine University pitcher A.J. Puckett at no. 67 overall in Thursday night’s second round of the MLB draft. He was the Kansas City Royals only Day 1 selection.
The 6’4″ 200 pound Puckett dominated opponents as the headline pitcher for the Pepperdine Waves in his junior season, while earning the nod as West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year for his 9-3, 1.27 ERA season in 99.1 innings pitched.
Puckett enjoyed a 57.1 inning scoreless streak this spring, as well as a 45.2 inning zero run, that helped him draw attention from scouts. Puckett’s best pitch is his plus fastball that sits between 91-95 mph. He also throws a developing change-up and curve that profile as average pitches at this time.
The biggest difference for Puckett in 2016 has been his improved command. Pepperdine pitching coach Rolando Garzo told Baseball America:
"“His breaking ball always has been a good pitch, with spin and rotation and good depth,” Garza said. “He’s throwing it a little bit firmer and it’s breaking a little bit later for hitters to recognize. But as much as the breaking ball’s improvement, what’s really created the forum for him to improve is his fastball command. He’s working it down with some angle, he’s learned how to command it up and down as well as laterally in the strike zone. And his changeup is also above-average.”"
Puckett’s hard work in Pepperdine’s strength progam also played a role in his progress according to Garza:
"“He did an incredible job in the offseason and this spring on his weight program and got stronger,” Garza said. “His process improved. He got on a long-toss program, continued to work on the nuances, his balance, his breathing and his focal training. His motor is what makes him a special player—his energy and focus on a daily basis.”"
The KC Royals were in line for the no. 24 pick of the first round, except they lost the pick by signing starting pitcher Ian Kennedy this winter to a five-year, $70 million deal. The MLB draft continues with rounds 3-10 on Friday and rounds 11-40 on Saturday.