After a 2011 season in which TCU left-hander Matt Purke, limited by shoulder issues (shoulder bursitis), made just 11 starts as a sophomore, going (5-1) with a 1.71 ERA, .187 BAA, 61 K's (10.42 K/9) and 20 walks (3.42 BB/9) in 52.2 IP, the 21-year-old left-hander was selected by the Washington Nationals with the 96th pick in the 3rd Round of the 2011 Draft. As D.C. GM Mike Rizzo explained it to ESPN980's Thom Loverro this past August, the Nats took a chance on the Horned Frogs' starter, who was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 1st Round of the '09 Draft before deciding to attend college, because the Nationals' front office saw him as, "... a power pitcher that has good command of his four pitches. He's a polished guy with command, poise and stuff and we think he's a quick-to-the-big-leagues college-type of pitcher and we're really pleased at the person and we were satisfied with his health."
The previous season, as a freshman, Purke had made the decision to attend college look like a good one, as he went (16-0) with 142 K's (10.99 K/9) and 34 BB (2.63 BB/9) in 20 games and 116.1 IP, setting himself up to possibly go higher in the draft than the Rangers had selected him in 2009, but concerns about his shoulder led to the 6'4'' left-hander being available for the Nats in the 3rd Round. The Nationals paid Purke like a 1st Round pick, giving him a 4-year/$4M+ major league deal after he'd allowed them to perform an MRI arthrogram on his left shoulder.
"I just knew that the only thing I could do was lay it out there and say 'Do what you want to do'," Purke told reporters during his introduction to the D.C. press corps this August. So he told the Nationals to, "... do the test, look at it, get your own assessment of it and then we can talk. I knew that I was healthy and I was fit again. I just had to prove it so I said 'Do what you have to do' and then we'll talk from there." Satisfied with what they saw, the Nationals drafted Purke, signed him and sent him down to Florida to work with, "... our pitching coordinator, Spin Williams down there," as Mike Rizzo explained during Purke's introduction, and after that, "We'll assess where he's at as far as his readiness to pitch, and as Matt said I've seen him pitch recently and he's well on his way to pitching in a game so when we make that assessment we'll put a plan together to get him on the mound."
Purke pitched for the Nationals in the Florida Instructional League, where he impressed Nats' Director of Player Development Doug Harris as MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr reported this morning in an article entitled, "Prospect Purke in Arizona, to work out of bullpen with Scottsdale." This afternoon, in the Scottsdale Scorpions' game against the Peoria Javelinas, Purke made his Arizona Fall League debut, throwing 38 pitches, 20 of them strikes in 2.0 innings of work in which he gave up a hit, a walk and one earned run while recording his first AFL K. The left-hander's fastball sat around 90-92 mph (he threw 26 FB's, seven sliders, five changeups acc to MLB's Gameday). After a nine-pitch, 1-2-3 5th inning, Purke struggled with his control in the sixth, throwing 29 pitches to five batters and surrendering a run on an RBI double before ending the inning with a backwards K.
Asked about Purke's ceiling on the Twitter recently, Baseball America's Jim Callis (@JimCallisBA) said, "If he's healthy, frontline guy. Can he stay healthy? Nationals encouraged so far." Purke too was encouraged with his outing as he Tweeted afterwards (@MattPurke47): "Done for the day felt good to be back out there now time to enjoy the rest of the day and the off day tomorrow." Purke's teammate with Scottsdale and fellow Nats' prospect Pat Lehman took the loss in this afternoon's game, giving up 2 hits, a HR, a walk and 2 runs, 1 ER in 2.0 innings pitched. Nats' backstop prospect Derek Norris was 1 for 4 with an RBI double. Zach Walters was 1 for 5 with an RBI and 3 K's. But the big story of the day was Matt Purke's AFL debut.