When the Royals scouted the player they would take with their first draft selection of 2016, they were witnessing a run at history.
A.J. Puckett, a right-handed pitcher from Pepperdine University and the 67th overall pick Thursday night, ran a scoreless inning count to 45 2/3, the third longest streak in NCAA history.
“We had a lot of looks at him during that stretch,” said Lonnie Goldberg, the Royals’ director of scouting.
What the Royals saw was a 6-4, 200-pound prospect who increased his stock this season by adding a few ticks to his fastball, which Goldberg said ranges from 90-95 mph.
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His best secondary pitch is a change-up and his curve is improving. Goldberg said the Royals felt fortunate Puckett was available at No. 67.
“He fills up the strike zone, attacks it,” Goldberg said. “He’s a good athlete who has a good pickoff move.”
Puckett, 21, went 9-3 with a 1.27 ERA, 95 strikeouts and 26 walks over 99 1/3 innings in his junior season and was named West Coast Conference pitcher of the year. Besides the scoreless streak, he went 57 1/3 innings between surrendering earned runs.
Puckett was a football player at De La Salle High in Danville, Calif., through his sophomore season when an accident over the summer changed his direction.
A story that appeared in Baseball America details a head injury that occurred when Puckett was horsing around with friends in the back of a car. The injury was serious enough that doctors put Puckett in a medically-induced coma for two weeks to slow his blood loss. He still has metal plates in his skull.
Puckett, whose draft slot was valued at $963,000, was the only selection made by the Royals on the first day of the draft, which continues on Friday with rounds 3-10. The draft concludes Saturday after 40 rounds.
The Royals’ first selection came in the second round after they lost their first-round pick, No. 25 overall, to the Padres as compensation for pitcher Ian Kennedy, who signed in January.