Continuing with our District on Deck writer-generated prospect rankings,we have another controversial choice. Lefthanded pitcher Matt Purke placed tenth on two lists, seventh on another, and not at all on the fourth. Like most guys in the Nats system, he has incredible promise but also massive risk. He started his career with great promise, but has faced recent hardship.
Purke was a highly regarded prospect coming out of high school, and was selected by the Texas Rangers 14th overall in the 2009 MLB Draft. Purke’s agent and the team agreed to a $6 million deal, but the MLB wouldn’t approve the payment from the nearly-bankrupt Rangers, and Purke went on to Texas Christian University. He delivered on his promise in his freshman year, going 16-0 with a 4.2 K/BB ratio, blowing hitters away with his 97 MPH fastball. He won the 2010 National Freshman of the Year Award.
In his sophomore year, however, his continuing battle with injuries began. He was limited to 50 innings pitched with shoulder bursitis, and slipped to the Nats in the third round, 93rd overall, in the 2011 MLB Draft. Despite his draft slot, the Nationals gave him a $4 million Major League deal, confident that he would return to the form that had made him an expected top-5 pick before the season. Unfortunately, that confidence may have been misplaced, as Purke pitched poorly in the Arizona Fall League and did not debut in the minors in Low A until May, as he spent his spring in extended Spring Training strengthening his arm. He then made three starts, with a 5.87 ERA in 15.1 IP, before going on the DL with a shoulder injury for the rest of the season.
Verdict: The Nationals Director of Player Development, Doug Harris, recently said about Purke: “I don’t think we can say we have seen Matthew for who he is just yet.” With all of his injuries, Purke has certainly not been given an opportunity to demonstrate the skills that made him so highly regarded in the past. If he can stay healthy, at least for this season, his prospect stock should shoot up, and he could yet be a great MLB starter. If this year becomes his third straight lost to injury, however, it would be hard to see him ever getting to the majors.