After two consecutive downright ugly outings, Washington Nationals left-handed pitching prospect Matt Purke completed his first scoreless outing in the Arizona Fall League yesterday. The 21-year-old, potential-filled lefty, allowed no base runners in one inning relief appearance in the Scottsdale Scorpions’ 9-2 victory over the Phoenix Desert Dogs.
In Purke’s previous two outings he had allowed 10 earned runs on nine hits and one walk in just 1.1 innings pitched.
Normally seeing a 21-year-old struggle in his first three outings in professional baseball wouldn’t be a cause for concern, but Purke is being watched with a particularly close eye as a result of his unique situation. The Nationals took the former Texas Christian star as a calculated risk in the third round of this years MLB Draft, and despite questions of his health, they gave him a $ 4 million MLB contract.
Purke was an incredibly sought after talent coming out of high school, so much so that the Texas Rangers had offered the hurler a $6 million deal after selecting him with the 14th overall pick in 2009. That deal, however, was eventually nixed by Major League Baseball. Instead, Purke went to Texas Christian University where he was arguably one of the best pitchers in baseball as a freshman. The 19-year-old went 16-0 and posted 142 strikeouts in 116 innings pitched.
His unsettling performance in his sophomore year, however, is what caused him to slip into the third round in this year's draft. Purke battled arm injuries all year, only started 11 games, and saw his velocity fall off the table. When he pitched, he still did well, posting a 1.71 ERA with 61K’s in 52.2 innings pitched, but scouts were left wondering if he was still the same pitcher as the one that dazzled them the year before.
So you can imagine why Purke’s results are looked at under a different scope than other first-year pitchers in the AFL. People want to know if he’s healthy, not just to see if the Nats made a potentially bad investment, but because a healthy Purke means the Nationals could have found a top-10 level prospect in the third round of the draft.
It will be interesting to see how the hurler performs moving forward. We have to remember that these were the first few innings he has pitched since his college season and they were his first taste of professional baseball at any level. If he gets hammered early on, that’s understandable, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore his AFL performance all together either. Nats fans want to see that Purke is healthy, because if he is, they could very well have another Jordan Zimmermann level pitcher in Washington in the next two-to-three years. If he's not, it has potential to be Mike Rizzo's first major slip-up as general manager.