No. 10 Nats prospect: Matt Purke

The Nationals traded their fifth-ranked prospect, pitcher Robbie Ray, to the Detroit Tigers last week. But it is still a pretty good list of prospects, and the organization did not have to give up their best to make the deal for Doug Fister.

Here is a look at the Nationals’ top 10 prospects according to Baseball America following the trade of Ray. Over the next few weeks, we will count down to No. 1 with the help of Baseball America national writer Aaron Fitt.

No. 10, LHP Matt Purke

I asked Fitt to give me his No. 11 prospect, who moved up to No. 10 because of the Ray trade. Matt Purke was his selection. But according to Fitt, Purke would not have made the list at midseason. His impressive drive to the finish and play in the Arizona Fall League with the Mesa Solar Sox sealed the deal.

“You know, if I had put the list together in August and September, he probably would have been lower than that because people were down on him a little bit,” Fitt said. “He didn’t have a very good year stuff-wise. I mean, he was OK.”

Purke went 5-3 with a 4.43 ERA in 12 starts for high Single-A Potomac. After moving up to Double-A Harrisburg, Purke went 1-1 with a 2.48 ERA in six starts.

Then in Arizona, Purke did not allow a run in his first three starts, won Pitcher of the Week honors, and finished with a 3-1 record and a 3.91 ERA.

“His stock went back up because of his play in the Arizona Fall League,” Fitt continued. “I don’t think he is what we used to think he was when he was a first-round pick, $2.5 million man out of college.

“But I am not going to abandon the guy. I mean, there is still enough arm strength here, he displayed that ability in the fall league. He hit 90-93 mph in the fall league after being 88 to 91 mph most of the season. He has a chance for a couple of average-to-better secondary pitches - the changeup and the breaking ball.”

Fitt believes that Purke may project to be in the bullpen in the majors.

“I think probably he winds up as a reliever,” Fitt said. “But he still has a chance to start. He is still young enough. He is 23 years old now. He has got three pitches and if you can throw strikes and command everything, yes, he can be a back-end-of-the-rotation starter. I think that is still to be determined.

“I feel probably a little more confident in him than (Nathan) Karns because he is about what he is right now, he is older, a little more upside (in Purke), but a little more risk, too.”

Last year, ranked Purke as its No. 9 Nationals prospect. The Nationals are so high on him, as I wrote here, that they sent him to Arizona. Obviously, they saw something in his ability to believe he could step up against top competition and he did. Now, Purke can make the next move this season, hopeful that his past shoulder issues will stay a distant memory.

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