Baseball America’s top Nats prospects - No. 7: Matt Purke

BERKELEY, Calif. - Greetings from the Golden State. College basketball season is under way and this weekend, I am on assignment with the George Washington Colonials as they venture into Haas Pavilion to take on the No. 24 California Golden Bears.

When we arrived, I got a good report on the pitching of left-hander Matt Purke, who threw another scoreless inning in the Arizona Fall League on Saturday. The Nationals are very proud of the progress the former TCU standout has made since a rocky beginning. He recorded his second hold for the Scottsdale Scorpions at Surprise and has notched three consecutive scoreless innings.

The Nationals have let Purke venture out on his own recently after they initially had him piggyback the starts of Red Sox prospect Brock Huntzinger.

The talented southpaw was a major part of the franchise’s impressive haul during draft day in June.

Purke clocks in at No. 7 on Baseball America’s Top 10 list of Nationals prospects for 2012 as compiled by national writer Aaron Fitt.

Many thought Purke could be the No. 1 overall selection next season in the draft. His season with the Horned Frogs was stunted a bit because of a shoulder injury. But the Purke allowed the Nationals to conduct on MRI and the diagnostic procedure proved his good health. Fitt said Purke has worked diligently to get back to the level he enjoyed in his early years of college baseball.

“He was injured in the spring,” Fitt said. “Purke was certainly in the Top 5 in our overall board and just behind (Nationals top selection) Anthony Rendon and Gerrit Cole. He was a blue-chip prospect. He had a fantastic freshman year at Texas Christian, going 16-0 (in 2010, 21-1 overall in two seasons). He helped those guys to the College World Series.

“At his best that year, he was dominant - a guy who threw his fastball where he wanted to. He had good command of his breaking ball, he had a lot of strike outs with that pitch. He has a changeup.”

Purke was shut down while dealing with a sore left shoulder. He had only 11 starts in 2011, which caused his draft status to drop. But as Fitt states, that did not deter the Nationals from grabbing him early in the draft.

“This season was kind of a lost season for him. He wasn’t healthy,” Fitt said. “I saw him in San Diego in April and his velocity was way down to where it had been in the past. There are questions about his health. That is what caused him to drop in the draft. Everyone knows he is an elite talent. The Nats took a shot on him.”

But this is an important point that Fitt has made about the Nationals’ draft and why Baseball America ranked it as its top draft of the summer: Purke is an example of a guy with some minor health issues that, when resolved, could point to a huge payoff for the franchise in the future.

“As we talked before, I really like how aggressive the Nationals were in the draft,” Fitt said. “They took chances on guys that they had the best overall feeling for with those first four picks. That comes with some risks. (But there also) is potential to get some serious rewards from those picks.

“Purke personifies that. He has very special makeup. He is a fierce competitor. He works very fast. Defenders like to work behind him. He just gets the ball and goes. He keeps those guys in a rhythm. If he is healthy, and they have gotten reports that he is, than that is big for the Nationals.”

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