SAN FRANCISCO — The Nationals showed on Day 1 of the 2011 MLB Draft that they’d have no issues drafting players with an injury history. They proved as much with their first selection by taking Anthony Rendon at No. 6 overall despite industry-wide concerns that Rendon’s medical information wasn’t being released and a history of ankle and shoulder injuries.
They kept with that strategy on Day 2 of the draft by taking TCU left-hander Matt Purke, a former first-round pick by the Texas Rangers and one-time No. 1 overall projected pick who suffered through a horrific 2011 season that featured an alarming drop in velocity after a bout with shoulder bursitis.
Purke reportedly had agreed to a $6 million over-slot deal with the Rangers in 2009 but that bonus was vetoed by Major League Baseball because of the Rangers messy financial situation at the time. The bonus was dropped to a reported $4 million and at that point Purke decided to go to school instead. It was a decision that benefitted him until this year when a blister issue turned into a shoulder issue and Purke never regained the form that had him so highly regarded after the 2010 season.
Here’s what Keith Law from ESPN.com had to say about Purke’s final start before the draft:
Matt Purke’s sophomore season hasn’t exactly gone as planned, as a “blister” he had earlier in the year turned out to be a sore shoulder, later diagnosed as bursitis, that reduced his velocity and put him on the shelf for about a month before his return to action last Thursday. On Wednesday night he started TCU’s first game in the Mountain West Conference tournament at Tony Gwynn Stadium in San Diego, and the results weren’t much better.
Purke started out at 87-88 in the first, eventually hitting 90-91 about seven times (with one 92) by the end of a long inning, but came back out in the second down to 86-88. His first pitch of the fourth inning was 84 mph. One scout behind me asked sarcastically “was that his fastball?” … and that was on a pitch in the first I had at 88. Purke did have very good tailing life on the fastball, but ended up throwing a lot of slurvy breaking balls, flipping them over the zone at 74-76 with late downward break, with a smattering of 75-77 mph changeups to right-handed batters. His arm looked restricted and he was releasing the ball early; even in his pregame warmups in the pen, I could see the ball wasn’t coming out of his hand that well, and it was that way through his four innings of work.
I could craft you an explanation about how the time off cost him arm strength, and how he didn’t have time to rehab the arm and regain both velocity and durability, and it would all make sense. I’m not dismissing the possibility that given time and the right strengthening program, Purke can again pitch like he did during his healthy and successful freshman year. But the bottom line is that pitchers with big price tags need to show big stuff, and Purke didn’t do it in what is likely his last opportunity before the draft to show he’s worth what he’s expected to demand.
Given Purke’s obvious potential and the fact that he was once valued incredibly highly, it wouldn’t surprise me if Purke did something along the lines of what LSU right-hander Anthony Ranaudo did in 2010 and packed his bags for the Cape Cod Baseball League to prove his health and raise his price tag back to where he feels it should be. That’s purely my own speculation right now but given his draft history it would make sense.