Washington Nationals minor league spotlight: Matt Purke

Washington Nationals minor league spotlight: Matt Purke
December 1, 2013, 1:00 pm
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Age on Opening Day 2014: 23

How acquired: Draft (3rd round), June 2011

Position: Starting pitcher

Prospect Rank: N/A

2013 Team/Level: Hagerstown Suns (Single-A), Potomac Nationals (Single-A), Mesa Solar Sox (AFL)

2013 Stats: 18 G, 6-4, 3.80 ERA, 90.0 IP, 92 H, 45 R, 38 ER, 6 HR, 25 BB, 82 SO, 5 HBP, 10 WP, 1.300 WHIP (two teams)

AFL Stats: 6 G, 3-1, 3.91 ERA, 23.0 IP, 20 H, 11 R, 10 ER, 9 BB, 17 SO, 1.260 WHIP

2013 Analysis: Matt Purke finally stayed healthy enough to pitch over 100 innings in a professional season this year after dealing with a variety of injuries since joining the Nats organization in 2011. He appeared in just three games in a disappointing 2012, but managed 24 stretched across three different teams this time around. Purke was at his best early in the year at Low-A Hagerstown. The lefty made six starts with the Suns before getting a promotion and recorded a 2.48 ERA through 29 innings pitched. He struck out 41 batters along the way to post a 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

Purke was quickly sent to Potomac where he would find trouble. In 12 starts with the P-Nats, Purke’s ERA jumped to 4.43 as he lost his command. In 61 innings with Potomac he hit four batters with balls and threw nine wild pitches. Purke improved on those numbers in the Arizona Fall League and left with a 3-1 record through six starts. Purke went 9-5 with a 3.82 ERA combined across stints with three teams. That’s not spectacular, but a solid season for the 23-year-old given all it took for him to get healthy.

2014 Outlook: 2014 will be a big year for Purke who last season flashed the potential that once made him a first round pick of the Texas Rangers. Injuries and merely decent numbers have caused his stock to drop rather dramatically. Purke was left off Baseball America’s list of the top ten prospects in the organization last month, ranking behind Nathan Karns (7.50 ERA with Nats in 2013) and Jake Johansen, the team’s second round pick in the 2013 draft. Nothing against either of those players, but they took over spots Purke once held.

Because Purke had problems with High-A batters at Hagerstown, it’s possible he returns there for the beginning of 2014. Then again, his showing in the AFL would seem to prove he’s ready for the competition in Double-A. Where Purke starts will likely have to do with how the Nats fill out their rotation at the big league level, and the domino effect that creates. If an in-house candidate such as Tanner Roark or Taylor Jordan makes the roster, Purke could line up to join Harrisburg’s rotation. But an influx of new names could push Roark and Jordan back to Syracuse, and everyone else in their organization another step down accordingly.