In offering a sampling of reasons why other GMs or team executives around the league might have issues with the Washington Nationals similar to those expressed in Bob Nightengale's recent USA Today article, Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell talked about the Nats' front office's willingness to sign injured prospects and trust that they could rehabilitate those players when others have shied away from using top picks on young players who already had existing medical issues. The Nationals, Mr. Boswell wrote, are, "... killing people by getting 'unsignable' players to sign in the amateur draft."
The example the WaPost writer uses is this year's 1st Round pick Lucas Giolito, a prep school arm considered by some the top available pitcher in his class before an elbow injury scared teams away. 15 teams had the chance to draft the right-hander in this past year's Draft, but he was available when the Nationals' first pick came around and they took a chance on Giolito and signed him (for a $2.925M dollar bonus) in part because he and his family were impressed by the plan that was laid out for them by the Nats should he have to undergo Tommy John surgery.
After just 2.0 innings in the Gulf Coast League, the Harvard-Westlake high school product was forced to undergo the procedure to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Giolito's not the only prospect the Nationals took a risk on, however. The Nats gambled on Rice 3B Anthony Rendon (4-year/$7.2M) in the 1st Round in 2011, taking a player who had a shoulder issue limit his ability to play the field in his final year in college and cause his stock to drop, leaving him available as the 6th overall pick.
Two rounds later, after the Nationals had picked right-hander Alex Meyer ($2M) out of Kentucky with the 23rd pick of the 2011 Draft and selected Brian Goodwin ($3M) out of Miami Dade College 34th, Washington drafted LHP Matt Purke out of TCU, two years after the Texas Rangers had made him a 1st Round pick (14th overall) in 2009. Purke, who was (16-0) with 142 K's (10.99 K/9) and 34 BB (2.63 BB/9) in 20 games and 116.1 IP as a freshman in college, had a shoulder injury (shoulder bursitis) in his sophomore year which limited him to just over 50.0 innings on the mound in the year before he was once again eligible for the draft.
The Nationals selected Purke in the 3rd Round, 93rd overall, and gave him 1st Round money, agreeing on a 4-year/$4.15M dollar major league deal which included a $2.75M dollar signing bonus.
As Nats' GM Mike Rizzo explained when he introduced the left-hander to reporters in a press conference in D.C., the Nationals were comfortable drafting Purke because they'd had the chance to go over his medical records and perform an MRI arthrogram, which the pitcher consented to because he wanted to sign. "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," the Nats' general manager told ESPN980's Thom Loverro at the time, "... and we're really pleased at the person and we were satisfied with his health."
Purke worked with the Nationals' pitching coordinators at the team's facilities in Florida, pitched in the Arizona Fall League last winter and threw 3.1 innings for the Nats in Spring Training before making his minor league debut at Class-A Hagerstown in late May. Two weeks and three starts into his first pro season, Purke was placed on the 7-Day DL with shoulder stiffness.
The left-hander would not pitch again competitively in 2012 though as MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr reported in late July, he continued to work to strengthen his shoulder at the Nationals' facilities in Florida. Not much was heard about Purke after that, however, until today. At the end of Mr. Kerr's report on the Nats' prospects in the Arizona Fall League, he wrote this morning that, "Purke had shoulder surgery and is recovering," though no details are provided as to the extent of the injury, expected time of recovery, etc.
The Nationals took some big risks in recent drafts. Rendon struggled with injuries again this year, but is healthy and playing in the Arizona Fall League right now. Giolito's already rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and as the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell wrote in Monday's chat, "In two years, [Giolito] will be back from TJ surgery and still only be 19." Purke might have been the biggest risk of them all. It will be interesting to hear what the Nationals have to say about the extent of the injury and what the future holds for the left-handed prospect.