Washington Nationals Gamble With A Gambler, 2011 MLB Draft Pick Matt Purke.

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 20: General Manager Mike Rizzo of the Washington Nationals talks to the media before the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 20, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The folks running the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs' Twitter account (@TCU) issued a quick tweeted mea culpa this morning, apologizing for the wording of a previous message which congratulated the Washington Nationals' 3rd Round pick, left-hander Matt Purke, for having been selected this past Tuesday, 96th overall in the 2011 MLB Draft:

"We're very proud of Matt Purke who was drafted by the Washington Nationals! TCU will miss him greatly!"

Purke, of course, had been drafted before, by the Texas Rangers, who selected the Klein, Texas-born left-hander out of high school, 14th overall in 2009, and had not signed. When Purke and the Rangers failed to agree on a deal, (the Rangers were said to have offered $4M in the end, MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan's reported that Purke and his agent started asking for $6M but were willing to accept $4.7M), the pitcher made the decision to attend TCU. 

After a freshman season which saw Purke go (16-0), striking out 142 K's (10.99 K/9) and walking just 34 BB (2.63 BB/9) in 20 games, 18 starts and 116.1 IP in 2010, earning himself the distinction of being named the, "..consensus National Freshman of the Year," as the Nationals noted in their press release on the selection, the left-hander's decision to forego signing with the Rangers appeared to have been a good one.

Yahoo!Sports.com's Kendall Rogers, this past January, in a College Baseball season preview entitled, "Purke’s gamble turning into riches", perfectly captured the risk the pitcher was taking by turning down millions to attend college, and eerily foreshadowed the struggles that were to follow for the 20-year-old lefty:

"Purke isn’t expected to be the top pitcher taken in the draft, barring an amazing sophomore campaign better than UCLA’s Gerrit Cole’s junior campaign. But a top-10 selection is almost a given unless some arm soreness turns into a more serious issue as the season progresses, slightly dropping his stock."

By mid-April 2011, Purke, who was experiencing shoulder issues, was shut down and sent to visit Dr. James Andrews. Dr. Andrews found nothing that couldn't be healed with rest, as he was quoted explaining in a statement by TCU in late April:

"We certainly don't have any reservations recommending him for being drafted as a professional," the statement says Andrews wrote in his report sent to major league teams. "His prognosis looks good and he should respond to a minimum period of active rest and conservative treatment to get his shoulder built back up."

The shoulder issues which resulted in notably decreased velocity from the pitcher, "who came out of high school two years ago sitting 92-93 mph and topping out at 95 mph," as MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo wrote, in an article entitled, "Draft news: Matt Purke shut down", limited Purke to just 11 starts 52.2 IP this past season, in which the lefty was (5-1) with a 1.71 ERA, .187 BAA, 61 K's (10.42 K/9) and 20 walks (3.42 BB/9) and in two seasons at Texas Christian, as an article on his selection by the Nats at GoFrogs.com (TCU's official site) noted, "The Horned Frogs were 26-5 in games he pitched over the last two seasons."

ESPN.com's Jason Churchill in a post-second-round article assessing the draft's success stories entitled, "Matt Purke gives Nats even more upside", praised the selection of Purke in the 3rd Round as an addition to the "unbelievable haul" the Nationals got in drafting, "...Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer and Brian Goodwin on Day 1,": 

"It may cost them $15 million to sign all four, but if they get all four under contract, the Nationals will have one of the strongest classes of the draft."

Flashback: August 2010, after the Nationals drafted Bryce Harper in the 1st Round, LHP Sammy Solis in the 2nd, RHP A.J. Cole in the 4th and lefty Robby Ray in the 12th, ESPN.com's Jason Churchill and Keith Law assessed the Nats' draft class in an article entitled, "A crucial stretch for the Nationals", in which they concluded that with Harper "almost certain to sign, which he did, if Washington could sign, "..all three guys, [Solis, Cole and Ray], which would be expensive in the short term, they'd have a legitimate claim to one of the best draft classes overall, potentially accelerating the rebuilding process GM Mike Rizzo has been putting into place since he got the job last spring."

All four players eventually signed, Harper to a record-high bonus for a position player a year after the Nats set the standard for a pitching prosect with Stephen Strasburg's deal, and the Nationals outspent the rest of the league in draft bonuses for the second-straight year. The Nats gave Cole, in particular, a way-above-slot $2M dollar deal, which was the largest bonus ever given to a fourth round pick to convince Cole (who's now pitching in Class-A Hagerstown) not to go to college at Miami. Can the Nationals convince Matt Purke to sign rather than return to TCU? Will the Nats have to overspend after Purke took a risk and suffered an injury that resulted in his drop to 96th overall two years after he went 14th and a year after he was being talked about as a sure-thing top 10. 

Earlier this week, just before the 2011 Draft, Nats' owner Mark Lerner was quoted discussing the Nationals' approach to players with "signability" issues in a Washington Post Nationals Journal article by Adam Kilgore entitled, "Mark Lerner: Nationals won’t shy from players with ‘signability issues’", in which Mr. Kilgore wrote that Washington would use "similar aggression" in their approach to signing this year's picks:

"We’re hoping that we’re getting someone great at 6, 23 and 34 – and down in the other rounds, too," Nationals owner Mark Lerner told the Post’s James Wagner yesterday in Hagerstown. "Last year we had great luck in going after kids with signability issues like A.J. and Robbie, and hopefully we’ll have the same opportunity again this year if the opportunity presents itself."

Signing Rendon, Meyer, Goodwin and Purke is just another step in stocking an increasingly impressive organization. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo and his front office have a lot of work to do before the August signing deadline. Especially considering their three top picks are all represented by super-agent Scott Boras...

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