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A.J. Puckett Climbs Quickly



SURPRISE, Ariz.—Righthander A.J. Puckett went from unheralded prospect at Pepperdine to Royals big league camp within a year.

"I was getting ready for college Opening Day a year ago,” Puckett said in the Royals’ spring clubhouse, where he was surrounded by veteran starters Jason Hammel, Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy.

Puckett was not considered a premium draft prospect when his junior season began last year, but a scoreless streak of 45.2 innings put him on scouts’ must-see lists.

"Midway through the streak I kind of started realizing I had a little streak going,” said Puckett, 21. "The guys on my team were starting to give me a hard time, saying they wanted to face me to break my streak.”

The Royals selected Puckett in the second round, making him their top pick in 2016.

After two perfunctory starts in the Rookie-level Arizona League, Puckett advanced to low Class A Lexington, where he went 2-3, 3.66 in 11 starts.

"I thought I could have pitched better, but it was just a fun atmosphere,” Puckett said. "It was an eye-opening experience. It was just going out there and getting the whole new experience of facing professional ball players.”

The indoctrination to minor league life included a 10-hour bus ride.

In his two wins, which came in his final three starts, Puckett allowed no runs over 10 innings. He walked 15 and struck out 45 over 58.2 innings at both stops.

"I need to command the zone,” Puckett said. "Walks always hurt you . . . So you always want to go out and throw strikes.”

Puckett sits at 91-94 mph and uses both sides of the plate. He also has a plus changeup. His curveball is inconsistent and needs to tighten up for him to develop into an impact starter.

Puckett will likely open this season at pitcher-friendly high Class-A Wilmington.

ROYALTIES

Righthander Kyle Zimmer was among the Royals’ first spring training cuts. They optioned him to Double-A. The 2012 first-round pick, who has had numerous injuries, recorded a 7.71 ERA this spring.

Righthander Josh Staumont, a 2015 second-round pick and the system’s top prospect, was reassigned to minor league camp. He allowed one run, struck out three and walked two over three innings in two appearances.

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2018 Chicago White Sox Top 10 Prospects

The top 10 prospects in the Chicago White Sox's farm system.

— Alan Eskew is a writer based in Kansas City

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