Nationals stay aggressive, get pitcher Purke in third round

TCU star coming off shoulder injury

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SAN FRANCISCO — On the first day of the 2011 Major League Baseball draft, the Washington Nationals sent a message for their strategy this year: We’re not afraid to take a risk.

They did as much selecting third baseman Anthony Rendon from Rice University with their No. 6 overall pick - taking a player once projected to go No. 1 overall and overlooking two recent ankle surgeries and a junior season hampered by a shoulder strain.

They reinforced that message again Tuesday when they took Matt Purke out of Texas Christian University with their third-round pick, No. 96 overall.

The left-hander, like Rendon, was once tabbed as a possible No. 1 but dropped because of an injury history and signability issues.

“We took the most impactful player we could with each pick,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Monday night after the Nationals had taken Rendon, followed by right-hander Alex Meyer at No. 23 and outfielder Brian Goodwin at No. 34.

They added to that haul Tuesday by selecting Purke, who was Texas’ first-round pick out of high school in 2009 but did not sign after his reported $6 million bonus was vetoed by MLB because of the Rangers’ unstable financial situation at the time. Purke spurned the $4 million offer that followed.

He was projected as a 2011 first-rounder, if not the first overall pick, after his 16-0, 3.02 ERA and 142-strikeout performance as a freshman last year. His repertoire included a mid-90s fastball, a curve, a slider and a change-up.

But shoulder bursitis — which reportedly began as a blister — led to a drastic drop in his velocity; he routinely was clocked in the mid- to- high 80s this season.

Nonetheless, the Nationals continued to be aggressive with the draft — following the precedent they set in 2010 by drafting pitchers A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray in late rounds and signing them to well above-slot bonuses.

The selection of Purke also kicked off a hoarding of college pitchers by the Nationals, who took 13 of them in the first 22 rounds. It was strategy that excited Meyer.

The Nationals are obviously an organization on the rise,” Meyer said on a conference call Tuesday. “It’s an exciting moment for the organization and even more for me. Playing with [Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann] those guys, I don’t know how it can get much better than that.”

Speaking of college pitchers, the Nationals added another with family ties to the organization by picking South Carolina lefty Bryan Harper, Bryce’s older brother, in the 30th round.

To add to the selections of Rendon and Goodwin on Day 1, the Nationals also took a position player with their sixth pick, third baseman Matt Skole out of Georgia Tech.

In Rendon and Purkethe Nationals not only selected two top talents, but also kindred spirits and former teammates from high school summer league in Texas. Both also know what it’s like to see their draft stock tumble because of injury.

“Leading up to it, people said this and that, writers were saying I’d go one, two, three, five, whatever - I didn’t let that get to me,” Rendon said. “I didn’t really want to pay attention to it because they’re not the organization. You really can’t pay attention to those things because they don’t know what’s going on inside, but when my name was called it was a relief. Thousands of kids probably wish that they were in my shoes right now.”

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