Outfielder Oscar Taveras was the subject of yesterday’s Prospect A-Z. His breakout season helps strengthening a Cardinals farm system that’s starting to look much stronger compared to recent seasons. That being said, everyone saw a number of homegrown players chip in contributions to their World Series run, and sometimes it’s hard to argue with results. With Albert Pujols signing elsewhere, St. Louis will need to look to its farm system to fill the void, but those are impossible shoes to fill. Taveras could become an above average right fielder with average power and a great ability to make hard contact. We had back to the mound today with new Nationals lefty Matt Purke.
Matt Purke, LHP, Washington Nationals (2011: NCAA TCU)
In May, I wrote a little about Purke in the context of the draft. His stock was one of the interesting things to pay attention to going into the draft in June. Two years after being drafted in the first round by Texas, having his contract nixed by the commissioner and dominating college baseball as a freshman, Purke was expected to be a top pick in the 2011 draft as an eligible sophomore, but his season quickly went south.
At the start of the season, it was clear that Purke wasn’t the same pitcher. His stuff appeared down, and he was soon out of action. TCU mentioned a blister and dead arm period for reasons his struggles, but that proved to be untrue. Eventually, he went to see Dr. James Andrews, which is never good news. He ended up having shoulder soreness, and he finished with eight fewer starts than the previous season. Statistically, his season was just as good as his 2010 season, but the reports were unanimous: the stuff wasn’t matching the stats.
Where would he be drafted though? Again, it was unanimous that his stock was way down. Around the time of the 2009 draft, it was rumored that he agreed to sign with the Rangers for a bonus around 6 million, but the Rangers were controlled by the commissioner’s office at the time due to ownership difficulties, and they would not allow the team to sign Purke for that much. He ended up going to TCU and had an incredible freshman season leading the Horned Frogs to the College World Series.
When Purke is right, his fastball sits in the 91-94 range and can touch higher with some movement. His slider is above average, and his changeup could be solid to complete his starter’s arsenal. Throw in a 3/4 arm slot from the left side that creates deception, and Purke becomes a package with great upside. When he wasn’t right in 2011, his velocity was sometimes 10 MPH lower, and when it did start higher, he couldn’t hold it through a few innings. His offspeed stuff wasn’t sharp, and he looked like a completely different pitcher. Instead of looking like a top pick, he looked like a guy that teams could only hope could get back to that level.
The Nationals were the team that acted on that hope and took Purke in the 3rd round with the 96th overall pick. This was perhaps higher than some people expected, but no one could guess whether or not he would sign. If he turned down 4 million from the Rangers (and maybe MLB itself), would he even be presented with an offer high enough to entice him to pro ball? As a draft eligible sophomore, he had a little more leverage than most college players because he could go back to TCU another year and not be older than anyone else the next draft.
He did get that bonus that would entice him to turn pro as Washington offered him 4.4 million dollars and a major league contract. That surprised just about everyone even though just about every expert agrees spending a lot in the draft is the best way to develop an organization. The Nats were in a spending mood this draft, giving their top four picks, Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin, Alex Meyer and Purke over 15 million dollars combined. In the case of Purke, it was a big risk. Shoulder injuries for pitchers are very concerning, and it’s not a guarantee that he would ever get his stuff back.
When he first got his feet wet in the Arizona Fall League this year, it certainly seemed like his time off from competing didn’t really help. In his first three appearances, he lasted a combined 3.1 innings, allowing 10 hits, 11 runs and only striking out one while walking two. The reports on his stuff were just about the same with decreased velocity and a flat breaking ball. He eventually did settle down with Scottsdale though. After eight days off, Purke went on to make four more appearances, pitching four innings, striking out four and only allowing two hits and one walk. Did he make some adjustments in the week off, or was it just the roller coaster of pro baseball?
The Nationals certainly hope it was the former because he could help in the majors very soon if that’s the case. As I talked about on Monday, they’re an organization that’s very close to putting everything together. They just about have a core in place to become contenders, and they’re using free agency and the farm system to build around it. Stephen Strasburg can lead the offense, and Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon can combine with Ryan Zimmerman to form a more than formidable middle of the lineup. If they can fill in the pieces around those players, the NL East is going to become very competitive very soon.
Come back tomorrow for Q, a reliever that’s fond of the Flying V.