Rare is the athlete who has not overcome some type of injury. More uncommon is the injury A.J. Puckett, introduced Monday as the Royals’ top draft selection, and his family had to confront.
In the summer between his high school sophomore and junior years, Puckett required emergency brain surgery for an accident that occurred as a passenger in a car driving in San DIego. A couple a friends were “fisting and fighting, according to Puckett,” and a blow caught him in the head.
“Wrong spot at the wrong time,” Puckett said.
Puckett didn’t feel pain and the next thing he did was play football on the beach.
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Fortunately, Puckett’s parents, Jeff and Brenda, were there. Puckett started feeling dizzy and later was told he had been placed in a medically induced coma for three days. He remained hospitalized for two weeks.
“It all happened in a flash,” Puckett said. “I was shocked a little bit when I woke up, and I tried to take it one step at a time.”
Those steps included ending his high school football career at famed De La Salle High, entering Pepperdine University, where he just finished a remarkable junior season that included a 45 2/3 -inning scoreless streak and a phone call from the Royals last Thursday.
The Royals didn’t have a first-round pick and selected Puckett No. 67 overall. The Royals and Puckett agreed to a $1.2 million signing bonus, according to MLB.com, over the slot value of $963,700.
“We got the guy we wanted,” said Royals director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg. “We were fortunate A.J. was still on the board when we picked.”
Puckett opened his college career as a relief pitcher but as a junior turned in a dominant season as a starter. At 6-4, 200 pounds, Puckett turned in a 1.27 ERA in 99 innings, the third best figure in West Coast Conference history. It helped him build a 9-3 record.
Plus the scoreless streak. Puckett recalled the team had a break in the schedule for finals in the midst of the streak, which became the third longest in college baseball history and was part of a 57 1/3 -inning streak of not surrendering an earned run.
Puckett pitched an intersquad game and found no let up.
“Guys on my team were trying to get more than the other teams,” Puckett said.
Puckett’s fastball reaches 94 and has an effective change-up and overhand curve with a developing slider. He’s scheduled to fly to the Royals spring training facility in Surprise, Ariz., on Tuesday to work out with other drafted players.
The Royals will then determine where Puckett will begin his professional career.