The Marlins and Athletics made yet another on February 12, just a little over a year after a swap that saw Jesús Luzardo head to Miami for Starling Marte. Miami and Oakland swapped former top prospects, as LHP A.J. Puk will head east for former first-round pick JJ Bleday. Here’s a closer look at both Puk and Bleday.
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A Look at Puk
Selected sixth overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, new Marlins LHP A.J. Puk has flashed impressive stuff throughout his pro career, but has dealt with a myriad of injuries. Puk showed elite stuff as a starter in the Minors from 2016-17, but also underwent UCL reconstruction that kept him out for all of 2018.
Puk began to transition into a reliever role in the Minors in 2019, a move that helped put him on the fast track to the Majors. The lefty saw his first MLB action late in 2019, and did quite well for an A’s team that made it to the MLB Playoffs. Across 11.1 innings, Puk struck out 13 and posted a solid 3.18 ERA.
Shoulder surgery kept Puk off the shelf until 2021, a season that was not too kind to the former first-round pick both in the Minors and Majors. But the lefty got back on track in 2022, a season in which the 27-year-old struck out 76 over 66.1 IP. Puk became a key piece of the A’s bullpen, thanks to a plus fastball and an excellent slider that has very good movement and break.
Athletics manager Mark Kotsay indicated this winter that Puk would receive a chance to crack the starting rotation in Oakland in 2023. It wouldn’t have been easy for Puk to make the rotation, as the A’s do have a number of interesting young pitchers in Freddy Tarnok, JP Sears, Kyle Muller, and Ken Waldichuk — all of whom who could have blocked a path to the rotation for him. Instead, Puk will instead start a new chapter in Miami.
A Look at Bleday
It’s not hyperbole to say that JJ Bleday was one of MLB’s least productive hitters from last season, after being called up for the first time in July. Across 238 plate appearances, Bleday hit just .167/.277/.309 with five home runs, 16 RBIs, and 17 extra base hits. The 25-year-old’s .586 OPS was the 14th-worst in baseball from July 23 (Bleday’s MLB debut) onward, among players who recorded at least 175 PA in that time span.
A former standout at the University of Vanderbilt, Bleday has yet to consistently put up strong results at any level in his pro career. Since being drafted sixth overall by the Marlins in 2019, the 25-year-old hit just .225/.337/.409 across 986 MiLB plate appearances.
Bleday did manage to show some power while in Miami, although he fell victim to the pop up regularly with the Marlins and struggled with pitches up in the zone. The new A’s outfielder’s calling card is his power, but the former Vanderbilt star also showed a penchant for working counts and drawing walks both at the MiLB ranks and in the Majors. Bleday posted an impressive 12.6% BB% in Miami, about four points above the MLB average.
There’s a lot of potential with someone like Bleday, and it’s hard not to see why the A’s would be interested in him despite his struggles as a pro. Outfielders who can hit for power and can get on base at the MLB level are not easy to find. But, Bleday isn’t a lock to be a regular in the Majors.
What it Means Oakland and Miami
The decision to move on from Puk is an interesting one for Oakland, but it could very well be an indication that the A’s merely saw the lefty as a very good reliever — and nothing more. Puk’s value and potential helped net the Athletics a potential regular outfielder in Bleday, whose immediate future with the Marlins seemed to be uncertain given the decision to move Jazz Chisholm Jr. to center field. With Chisholm heading to the outfield, Miami can roll out a trio with him in center, and Bryan De La Cruz and Avisaíl García at the corners in 2023. Bleday appeared to be the odd man out.
JJ Bleday may be a risky pickup, but the 25-year-old was taken in the first round for a reason. The new A’s outfielder possesses very good plate discipline and power tools, so it’s possible a change of scenery could do him good.
As for Puk, the 27-year-old possesses two borderline elite pitches, but has rarely used his tertiary offering — a changeup — in his MLB career thus far. It’s possible that the Marlins could audition Puk for a starting role this spring, especially with Pablo López now in Minnesota. But with Sixto Sanchez a possibility for the Marlins in 2023, and a plethora of other young pitchers in tow, Puk could also be a key weapon in the Miami bullpen alongside Tanner Scott, Dylan Floro, and new Marlin Matt Barnes.