Baseball America’s No. 9 Nats prospect: Matt Purke

A heavy dose of potential is a theme for a few of the Baseball America Nationals’ top 10 prospects.

Left-hander Matt Purke is a pitcher I get constant questions about, as the Nationals have been unable to see Purke make it through an entire season healthy after showcasing one of the more amazing pitching arms at the collegiate level.

Purke resides at No. 9 on Baseball America’s top 10 Nationals prospects list because of his potential as a lethal southpaw starter. Sammy Solis and Purke are the only lefties in this list, and are always coveted commodities in any organization. Now Purke just wants to get healthy from a shoulder that required surgery.

The former Texas Christian star made only three starts for low Single-A Hagerstown last season, going 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA. In 15 1/3 innings, he allowed 15 hits, 10 earned runs, 11 walks, one homer and struck out 12 batters.

His best outing came in June against Kannapolis at home. He went 4 2/3 innings, scattering five hits, allowing only two runs, walking three and striking out eight hitters in a no decision.

But because of his shoulder issues, Purke made just those three starts from May 30 to June 10 and spent most of the rest of the season rehabbing in Florida.

Baseball America national writer Aaron Fitt says there is a question of when Purke will be completely healthy, but when 100 percent, Purke had great stuff.

“He is certainly the biggest X factor in the system,” Fitt said. “They knew when they drafted him he was a wild card. It is a gamble. You are paying for a player on his track record. Since they drafted him, they haven’t really seen him (pitch). Even really since his sophomore year, he hasn’t been what he used to be.”

Purke was the 2010 Baseball America Freshman of the year and Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American at TCU, going a stunning 16-0 in 18 starts, with a 3.02 ERA, one complete game, 142 strikeouts, 34 walks in 116 1/3 innings.

“We haven’t seen the real Matt Purke since his freshman year at TCU or even his high school days,” Fitt said. “Nobody knows with shoulders. It is not like a guy having Tommy John surgery. You don’t know how he will come back from it.”

Shoulders are always iffy propositions, especially for pitchers. But Fitt said Purke’s surgery was not too invasive and that is a good sign for his complete recovery.

“It wasn’t like it was a major reconstructive shoulder surgery; it was cleaning out scar tissue and cleaning up bursitis,” Fitt said. “There is reason for optimism, I suppose. Now we have to wait and see with him.”

And if Purke can get back to the pitcher he was in college, the Nationals would enjoy big-time benefits.

“He is somebody that could provide serious rewards,” Fitt said. “I remember seeing him his freshman year at TCU. He was fantastic. He pounded the strike zone. He had a good feel for the slider. He did a pretty good job of locating his fastball and I don’t think his fastball command was a finished product.”

The bottom line is Purke has the stuff - when healthy - to be a difference-making southpaw, and that is what the Nationals hope to see in the next couple of seasons.

“He can really pitch,” Fitt said. “That is the big thing. He competes like crazy. I think he could be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter in the big leagues if he can get healthy again. We will have to wait and see on that one.”

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