Arizona Fall League prospect: Matt Purke

Matt Purke
Matt Purke is closer to making the jump as a reliever than a starter for the Nationals. (Brad Barr/USA TODAY Sports)

Matt Purke made a name for himself after going 16-0 with 142 strikeouts in 116.1 innings in his freshman season at Texas Christian University. The big southpaw turned down $4 million from the Texas Rangers after being selected 14th overall in the 2009 draft. Due to arm troubles, Purke threw just 52.2 innings his sophomore season. A draft-eligible sophomore, Purke slipped all the way to the third round, where the Washington Nationals snapped him up, and gave him first-round money to sign.

Because he signed late, Purke made his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League in 2011. He threw just seven innings, and got hit pretty hard. Purke began the 2012 season in single-A with the Hagerstown Suns, but he made just three starts before a shoulder injury ended his season. The results weren’t pretty, as Purke had 12 walks against 14 strikeouts in 15.1 innings. Even more troublesome: The injury was to the shoulder that bothered him his sophomore season at TCU.

The 2013 season has been kinder to Matt Purke, who started the season in Hagerstown. He made six starts there before moving up to the high-A Potomac Nationals. In Hagerstown, Purke dominated hitters to the tune of a 34.7 percent strikeout rate and a 5.9 percent walk rate. The results were more modest against the more mature hitters of the Carolina League. Purke made 12 starts, with strikeout and walk rates of 15.6 percent, and 6.8 percent, respectively. Opponents hit .284 against Purke at Potomac.

The Nationals sent him to the Arizona Fall League for some additional work. His results there were solid, but unspectacular. Purke made six starts, throwing 23 innings. He walked nine and struck out 17.

Matt Purke has a low, three-quarters delivery with a high leg kick. It’s a high-effort motion, and he really comes across his body, slinger-style. That’s both a blessing and curse as it’s difficult for hitters to pick up the ball, but it also puts a lot of extra stress on his shoulder. His lower half isn’t very engaged in his motion, and at times his balance looks a little faulty. Not to pile on too much, but he also leads with his elbow, and his arm drags to compensate.

We probably won’t see the 95-97 mile per hour fastball that Purke flashed in his freshman year at TCU. However, he’s still 89-92 with a little bit of sink.  His best pitch is his breaking ball, which has very late, sharp bite. He’ll throw it as a hard slider or subtract some velocity and get more downward break. It would be a viable weapon at the major-league level right now. Purke’s change-up has improved some, to where it is an average pitch.

The funky delivery that Matt Purke utilizes seems best suited for the bullpen. If the Nationals want to tinker with his delivery and continue to stretch him out, it might be a while before he’s major-league ready. However, if they see his future as a left-handed reliever, Purke probably isn’t far from the major leagues. He’s not the elite guy everybody was drooling over during his freshman year at TCU, but Matt Purke can still be a contributor at the big-league level.

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