OAKLAND - Nearly 10 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery, A's left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk is making excellent progress.
The 23-year-old will be a non-roster invitee to spring training next week, where he is expected to throw bullpens and partake in pitchers' fielding practice.
"I'm feeling awesome, Puk told NBC Sports California. "I was really excited when I got the call (to spring training). I wasn't really expecting it just because I didn't know how much I was going to be able to do. Just a couple of bullpens. But it's definitely going to be a good time to be there."
Puk is ranked as the A's second-best prospect by MLB Pipeline, behind only fellow southpaw Jesús Luzardo. He's also the fourth-best left-handed pitching prospect in all of baseball. Standing at 6-foot-7, Puk brings back memories of Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, both in stature and ability.
He led all of Minor League Baseball with 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 2017. Puk also owns a mid-to-high 90s fastball and a nasty slider in the mid-to-high 80s, leading to a terrific swing-and-miss rate. He also mixes in a changeup and curveball.
Last spring, before suffering his elbow injury, Puk certainly looked the part against big-league hitters, going 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in four appearances. There was even talk of him earning a spot on the A's Opening Day roster. Unfortunately, he never got that chance.
"The first couple of months were probably the worst, not being able to throw," Puk said of his recovery. "As soon as you start throwing, you kind of build your confidence back up like, 'Hey, it's going to be alright.'"
A's general manager David Forst told reporters last month that Puk has been playing catch out to a 120-plus feet, and feels great. Puk estimates he could be ready to face live hitters beginning in May, and then hopefully pitching in games in June or July, likely starting in Triple-A.
Of course, he would love the opportunity to join the big-league roster sometime this year, especially if it means helping the A's toward another postseason berth.
"That would be great but I'm still taking it one day at a time," he cautioned. "I'm just worried about getting better each day so I can maybe hope to compete for a job when I come back."