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TJ surgery recommended for top prospect Puk

MLB.com @JaneMLB

SAN FRANCISCO -- Crushing news befell the A's on Tuesday. Their top prospect, left-hander A.J. Puk, has been recommended for Tommy John surgery.

Oakland's starting depth has crumbled in recent weeks, and the greatly hyped Puk, at least temporarily, embodied a heap of hope for these A's, who planned to promote him within the first few months of the season. That's why this one particularly stings.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Crushing news befell the A's on Tuesday. Their top prospect, left-hander A.J. Puk, has been recommended for Tommy John surgery.

Oakland's starting depth has crumbled in recent weeks, and the greatly hyped Puk, at least temporarily, embodied a heap of hope for these A's, who planned to promote him within the first few months of the season. That's why this one particularly stings.

"He was on what looked to be the fast track," said A's manager Bob Melvin, who has likened Puk to Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. "Now, obviously, a little bit of a setback, but he's still a young kid and he's still going to have a long, successful career, in my opinion."

Puk was shut down with biceps soreness last week, and the discomfort soon traveled to his forearm. An initial diagnosis by Dr. Doug Freedberg in Arizona led to a second opinion with Dr. James Andrews, who has advised ulnar collateral ligament repair surgery.

The procedure would keep Puk out of action for more than a year.

"The hits just keep on coming as far as the rotation goes," Melvin said after the A's 3-0 spring-ending loss to the Giants. "First and foremost, you feel sorry for him."

The A's have already lost Jharel Cotton to Tommy John surgery and await the return of Paul Blackburn, who is shelved with a forearm strain. They will enter the season with a rotation consisting of Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs and Daniel Gossett, while veterans Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson build up innings in the background.

The unit is thin, and arguably unreliable, but the A's hope they can stay afloat with a powered offense and a formidable bullpen, no longer able to turn to Puk at any moment.

The 22-year-old pitcher opened camp with 10 consecutive innings without an earned run, before he was tagged for four in 2 2/3 innings in what would be his final outing. That's when concern about his velocity came to light, and the A's soon opted to transfer him to Minor League camp.

The move made sense; though there was much speculation about Puk beginning the season in the A's rotation, Oakland thought better, recognizing the lefty had zero experience above the Double-A level. The A's simultaneously guaranteed they wouldn't burn a year of his service time by starting him at Triple-A.

Per a team release, there will be no further update on Puk "until the club has news to pass along." He was their first-round Draft pick in 2016, taken sixth overall, and is considered the gem of a prized crop of pitching prospects for a club that has its eye on the future.

Along with Puk, the A's have James Kaprielian, Jesus Luzardo, Grant Holmes, Logan Shore and Daulton Jefferies -- all touted arms -- developing in their system. Puk won't be alone in his recovery process should he undergo the surgery, instead able to turn to Kaprielian, Luzardo and Jefferies, who have succumbed to the same procedure.

"He's a young guy," Melvin said, "and typically when these things happen, these guys come back as strong, if not stronger than ever, and I know he's going to work hard to get back and to pitch in the fashion that he was."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.

Oakland Athletics, A.J. Puk