Patrick Reddington: Nats’ show of faith in Matt Purke paying off

The Texas Rangers thought enough of Matt Purke coming out of Klein High School near Houston, Texas, that they took the 6-foot-3 prep school lefty with the 14th overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.

Purke was 12-1 with 147 strikeouts (17.26 K/9) and a 0.37 ERA in 76 2/3 innings pitched as a junior and 4-2 with a 1.18 ERA and 91 strikeouts (17.30 K/9) in 47 1/3 innings of work in his senior year. There were rumors of a well-above slot $6 million deal for the pitcher, which was reportedly approved by the Rangers’ owner, but Major League Baseball was overseeing the team’s finances at the time and several reports said MLB would not approve the deal. Before the deadline to sign that year’s picks passed, a reported $4 million offer fell through as well and Purke failed to agree on a deal.

A 16-0 freshman season at Texas Christian University in which the left-hander collected 142 strikeouts (10.99 K/9) while giving up 34 walks (2.63 BB/9) in 20 games (18 starts) and 116 1/3 innings only raised Purke’s profile and made the decision to go to college instead of signing look like it might result in the pitcher going even higher than 14th when he re-entered the draft in 2011.

The TCU lefty was (5-1) as a sophomore starter with the Horned Frogs in 2010, posting a 1.71 ERA, 20 walks (3.42 BB/9) and 61 strikeouts (10.42 K/9) in 11 starts and 52 2/3 innings in which he held opposing hitters to a .187 batting average. But a shoulder issue limited his time on the mound and scared off potential suitors when he once again became eligible for selection.

The Nationals’ 96th pick in the third round of the 2011 draft was protected, however, so the Nats and GM Mike Rizzo took the former first-round pick knowing that if he failed to sign, they would have the same pick the next June. Purke signed though, and got first-round money, eventually agreeing on a four-year, $4.15 million major league contract. The Nats treated Purke like a top pick, too, introducing the left-hander to reporters in the nation’s capital in August 2011 after he signed. Purke said he knew right away he wanted to join the Nats organization, so he let the team do whatever they needed to in order to satisfy any concerns they had about his shoulder.

“They come highly recommended,” Purke said of the Nationals. “I’ve seen the things they’ve done the last few years with the prospects they’ve brought in and the major league players as well. This organization is going to be very strong, they’re building and they’re going to be a serious team to deal with in the years to come. I knew I wanted to be a part of that and hopefully to be a helpful piece in the puzzle.”

After working to build strength in his shoulder, Purke made his pro debut with the Hagerstown Suns in late May 2012. Three starts and 15 1/3 innings later, the lefty’s first professional season ended with shoulder issues once again forcing him to shut down. In August, Purke, who was diagnosed with bursitis, had surgery to remove some bursa sacs and clean up his left shoulder. There was, however, no damage to the rotator cuff or labrum.

By May 2013, the lefty was back throwing on the mound as he rehabbed with Rizzo reporting that his fastball was back up around 93-94 mph. Purke’s fourth pro start took place on May 29 with Hagerstown. In four innings on the mound for the Suns in his season debut, he gave up seven hits and two runs while striking out six. He’s made four starts since then with no reported issues. Still only 22 years old, Purke is 1-1 with a 3.13 ERA, seven walks (2.74 BB/9) and 33 strikeouts (12.91 K/9) in 23 innings on the mound.

In an interview on 106.7 the FAN in the weeks before Purke’s first start this season, Rizzo predicted that if things went well, the highly regarded pitcher who was considered a quick-to-the-majors type prospect by Baseball America when he was drafted by the Rangers out of high school, could move up in the organization quickly if he could stay healthy.

“He just got moved from his rehab to Hagerstown, so he’ll be competing at that level, get five or six starts under his belt and probably be moved to a higher level,” Rizzo said.

Is a move up in the organization coming soon? To Potomac? Harrisburg? Wherever he ends up this season, Purke’s starting to reward the faith the Nationals showed in him when they drafted and signed him two summers back.

Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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