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Pucetas refuses to be overlooked

Pucetas refuses to be overlooked

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MODESTO, Calif. -- Kevin Pucetas was selected as a member of the United States team that will participate in the XM All-Star Futures Game. A simple statement that acknowledges one of the rewards that comes with being one of baseball's top prospects.

But when discussing Pucetas' selection to the U.S. squad that will take the field Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, it's not as simple as all that. For most folks to state matter-of-factly that Pucetas has made the team would be glossing over the fact that most of those same people have left his name out when discussing not only the best pitching prospects in the San Francisco system, but in all of baseball.

Pucetas may be getting the love this weekend in the Bronx, but it's been a long time coming. That he was 29-5 with a 2.30 ERA through his first 56 career appearances (52 starts) should have been enough for him to rate a mention with Tim Alderson, Henry Sosa or any of the other pitching prospects the Giants have in their system.

That Pucetas was 7-0 with a 2.52 ERA through his first 15 starts for San Jose in the California League this year should have been enough for people to start noticing. That alone should have been enough to put him in a group with Trevor Cahill and all the other pitchers who have been so impressive in the Class A Advanced circuit this season.

It seems, though, that Pucetas has had a hard time gaining some respect. He's aware of it, and it's nothing new. He's been fighting for recognition for a long time, and has gotten to a point where he simply accepts the situation.

"Yes, I'm surprised, because I've had a pretty good start to my career," Pucetas said about seemingly getting little respect. "Hopefully, people have seen now that I know how to get guys out and give my team a chance to win. To be honest, though, I was very unheralded coming out of a small Division II school [Limestone College].

"So, I'm used to it. I don't take it personally. I use it as motivation. I know I can change speeds and locate and get guys out. Hopefully, one day I'll get some respect and publicity. Maybe it's finally coming around. And, hopefully, I'll get the chance to represent this great country in the Olympics."

The Giants chose Pucetas in the 17th round (506th overall) of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. All he did that summer was go 7-1 with a 2.75 ERA in 15 starts for Salem-Keizer of the Class A Short-Season Northwest League. Pucetas followed that up by going 15-4 with a 1.86 ERA for Augusta of the Class A South Atlantic League last year, but still didn't show up on many prospect sheets heading into this season.

But by the time May rolled around, he had won five of his first eight starts, had an ERA of 1.72 and people were slowly beginning to take notice. Though he missed some time in June after taking a line drive off his foot May 29, he didn't seem fazed upon his return. He's been working on a pitch count to rebuild his arm strength, and should be back at full strength when and if he takes the mound at Yankee Stadium.

"As soon as I was drafted, I had a lot of expectations of myself as a professional," Pucetas said. "So I carried myself a certain way. And it only fueled the situation that I was a 17th-rounder, and that I came from a D-II school. I had to prove that I could play with the first-rounders and the D-I guys.

"So it's kind of my own little chip. I definitely have to prove I can play with them every single day."

Pucetas said he didn't have many scholarship offers coming out of high school. He was 5-foot-10, weighed more than 200 pounds and admits he was a "short, chubby guy." But, he was able to pitch. He changed speeds, had a better than average fastball and along the way grew five inches and gained 35 pounds.

By the time he left Limestone, he knew what he was capable of doing on the mound, but few others seemed to notice.

"In high school, I was a short right-hander without overwhelming stuff," he said. "When you're throwing 80-82, you don't get the scouts to look. By the end of my sophomore year in college, though, I had gained three or four miles on my fastball and I was getting closer. I thought that if I kept working hard, maybe I would be able to make it."

Pucetas hasn't made it all they way there yet, but he's taking a big first step this weekend when he heads to New York. Perhaps he'll take an even bigger step after that and head to China with the U.S. Olympic team. After that, who knows?

One thing is certain, the Giants are pleased with the gem they uncovered in Pucetas.

"He's got as good a command as any pitcher in this league," San Jose pitching coach Pat Rice said. "He's got an outstanding changeup. His breaking ball could be a little better. But he drives downhill with his fastball very well. His biggest asset is the plane on his fastball. He has nice sink and gets ground ball after ground ball.

"He's got a chip on his shoulder, but it's a good chip, and I imagine it's a chip that a lot of players use for themselves. It's a good thing to have. He's a very confident kid."

Confident even if he isn't well known or well respected yet.

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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