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Puk among A's Sunday cuts

Oakland top pitching prospect won't start season in rotation
MLB.com @JaneMLB

MESA, Ariz. -- A's top pitching prospect A.J. Puk was among Sunday's roster cuts, putting to rest any conjecture about his chances of landing in the Opening Day rotation.

With Puk performing better than several starting candidates this spring, speculation was running rampant about the lefty's potential to skip the Triple-A level entirely and enter the big leagues. The A's have opted for the seemingly safer choice, while also ensuring they don't burn a year of the pitcher's service time.

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MESA, Ariz. -- A's top pitching prospect A.J. Puk was among Sunday's roster cuts, putting to rest any conjecture about his chances of landing in the Opening Day rotation.

With Puk performing better than several starting candidates this spring, speculation was running rampant about the lefty's potential to skip the Triple-A level entirely and enter the big leagues. The A's have opted for the seemingly safer choice, while also ensuring they don't burn a year of the pitcher's service time.

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The move came less than 24 hours after executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane voiced his opinion on the matter, stating, "The preferred route is not to jump a kid after half a year in Double-A."

Manager Bob Melvin piggybacked on these comments after the 22-year-old Puk was trimmed, saying, "It got to the point where we were comfortable with the guys we have here. There was a lot of speculation with him, and rightly so, based on the way he was pitching. I think Billy said it best -- is it fair to him to rush him up here just because at one point in time it looked like there was a need?"

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Depth is thin among the A's starting group, diluted more so Saturday after learning Jharel Cotton will undergo Tommy John surgery -- scheduled for Wednesday with Dr. Keith Meister in Dallas -- and miss the 2018 season. But the club has enough bodies to fill out a starting five, with more help on the way in the form of veteran Trevor Cahill, who has agreed to a one-year deal, pending a physical.

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It's unclear if Cahill would be a starting option at season's opening; assuming he's not, Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea will likely be joined by Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn and Andrew Triggs, with Daniel Gossett also still in play.

Puk will presumably see them again in just a few short weeks.

"We have several guys pitching pretty well right now, so he's better off getting some innings down there now and refining his craft, which he's done very well up to this point," Melvin said. "We'll see where his timing is, but he had a very impressive camp.

"The strides that he's made to get to where he is right now have been very significant. It's just, when you're skipping steps and you haven't had that much time really at the Double-A level, let alone the Triple-A level, you just worry about where you go with him, so we want to make sure he catches all these levels and is that much more prepared once he gets here."

Video: SEA@OAK: Puk gets Lake to go around for strike three

The A's 2016 first-round Draft pick dazzled with a string of 10 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run to begin camp, before he was struck for four in 2 2/3 innings on Wednesday -- two of them scoring following his departure.

Puk favored his two-seamer over his four-seamer and populated the zone with offspeed offerings, leading to questions about his velocity. While he has the ability to reach the upper 90s, Puk was topping out at 91 mph after the first inning Wednesday.

"I think it'll get there," Melvin said. "I think the fact that he was working on different things and he was really concentrating on his two-seamer and his changeup, maybe not at the point in spring yet where the velo picks up. Certain guys are different. Certain guys get here and they have their velo right away and with certain guys it takes a bit."

Right-hander Chris Bassitt was also included in Sunday's cuts, which affected nine players. Bassitt allowed five earned runs in 6 1/3 innings this spring, issuing six walks and two home runs with five strikeouts.

Bassitt, who hasn't pitched in the big leagues since undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2016, expressed a desire to start upon arriving to camp but available innings were limited. He'll rejoin Nashville.

"That's kind of where he is now, in that potential hybrid-type role and never really performed to where he could get stretched out," Melvin said. "We were trying to do what was best for him and best for us where we might need him and things over the course of spring change, so we never really got him out there long enough to get him in a potential starter's role, so we'll see where it goes, and I'm not sure what they have planned for him once he leaves here."

The A's also reassigned left-hander Eric Jokisch, right-hander Kyle Finnegan, catcher Sean Murphy, infielder Steve Lombardozzi and outfielders Anthony Garcia, Slade Heathcott and Nick Martini to Minor League camp, leaving 39 players on the big league side.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.

Oakland Athletics, A.J. Puk