Thereâ€™s a lot of optimism around the Florida Gators heading into the 2016 season. Here at College Baseball Central, weâ€™re still several weeks away from releasing our preseason top 25, but in a quick spoiler, the Gators are going to be very near the top of it.
One big reason for such optimism is the return of starting pitcher A.J. Puk. The Gators will return a large percentage of their innings from last seasonâ€™s staff, as a matter of fact, but Pukâ€™s potential, in particular, is off the charts and enough to get excited about.
Last year, in his sophomore season, his first as a full-time weekend starter, Puk went 9-4 with a 3.81 ERA. Those numbers are solid, if unspectacular, but itâ€™s the numbers a little further down the stat line that stick out most.Â In 78 innings of work, Puk struck out 104 and opposing batters hit just .210 against him.
Clearly, opposing teams had a great deal of trouble squaring him up, and thatâ€™s no surprise given his stuff, most notably a fastball that runs into the high-90s. But, his stuff can also be a detriment to his success. In those 78 innings of work, he also walked 35, which is a few more than he would ultimately like, and he uncorked eight wild pitches.
Even if he merely duplicates his 2015 numbers in 2016, he will garner significant interest from MLB teams in time for the next MLB Draft. But if he can better harness his stuff and become one of the most dominant all-around pitchers in the country, he could be a virtual shoe-in for the first overall pick.
Opinions on him are already high. After spending the summer pitching for Collegiate Team USA, D1Baseball.comâ€™s Aaron Fitt named him the top prospect on Team USA for the 2016 draft. This past fall, D1Baseball.comâ€™s staff named him their number one overall prospect.
For the 2016 season, the Gators will simply settle for Puk being a staff co-ace along with Logan Shore, and that certainly seems like something he can handle.