Nationals' Prospect Matt Purke Earns Win Saturday In Arizona Fall League

March 07, 2012; Melbourne, FL, USA; Washington Nationals pitcher Matt Purke (50) pitches during the spring training game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Space Coast Stadium. - Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Nationals' prospect Matt Purke fell out of Baseball America's Top 10 when the most-recent list was released. Can the 23-year-old former 1st Round pick work his way back up the organizational ladder now that he's finally healthy?

Matt Purke, 23, improved to (3-1) in his second stint in the Arizona Fall League with a win in his sixth start Saturday afternoon in Surprise Stadium in Surprise, AZ. The Mesa Solar Sox' lefty threw 71 pitches, 42 for strikes in four innings of work against the Surprise Saguaros in which he gave up five hits, two runs and two walks while inducing seven ground ball outs. Through six starts, Purke now has a 3.91 ERA, nine walks (3.52 BB/9) and 17 Ks (6.65 K/9) in 23 IP...

"My biggest things is, coming back from surgery, just trying to make all my starts..." - Matt Purke on MLB.com AFL Podcast

Baseball America's Top 10:

Matt Purke debuted at no.7 on Baseball America's list of the Washington Nationals' Top 10 prospects in November of 2011 as the top left-hander in the organization after the Nats drafted the southpaw out of TCU with the 96th overall pick in the 3rd Round of the Draft that June and signed the one-time Texas Rangers' 1st Round pick to a 4-year/$4.15M major league deal.

In his first competitive action as a pro in late 2011, Purke gave up 12 hits and 11 runs while walking three and striking out five in seven games, one a start and 7 1/3 IP for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. The shoulder issues which plagued Purke during his sophomore season in college and caused him to drop to the 3rd Round in 2011 after he'd gone 14th overall in '09, limited him to just three starts in his first season in the Nats' system in 2012, after which he had surgery to "relieve bursitis and clean out scar tissue" in his shoulder as the Washington Times reported in October of 2012.

"I've just been trying to just make all my starts and go out there and pitch and compete and try to command all my pitches in the zone." - Matt Purke on MLB.com AFL podcast

In spite of the limited activity and subsequent shoulder surgery, Purke remained on BA's Top 10 prospects list last winter, dropping to 9th overall in the system as the second-highest ranked left-hander behind 2010 2nd Rounder Sammy Solis. Purke returned to the mound in May at Low-A Hagerstown, where he was (1-1) with a 2.48 ERA, a 2.54 FIP, seven walks (2.17 BB/9) and 41 Ks (12.72 K/9) in six starts and 29 IP for the Suns.

Purke made the jump to High-A Potomac and was (5-3) with a 4.43 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 18 walks (2.66 BB/9) and 41 Ks (6.05 K/9) in 61 IP for the P-Nats. The lefty was then chosen to compete in the Arizona Fall League for a second time. Purke was recognized as the AFL's Pitcher of the Week for the final week of October after his third start in the so-called "finishing school" for the game's top prospects. Purke talked about his second stint in Arizona on MLB.com's AFL podcast that week.

"Just have a really good group of guys playing behind me," Purke told the show's hosts Dylan Higgins and Nate Rowan, when asked about his success early this fall. "We're playing really good defense. We're hitting the ball, scoring runs [and] taking the pressure off me so it's easy to work out there."

"Typically this is a hitter's league. And so there's a lot more runs scored and a lot more hits and home runs and stuff like that." - Matt Purke on MLB.com's AFL podcast

The left-hander said that he saw the competition in Arizona as a good test.

"Typically this is a hitter's league," Purke said. "And so there's a lot more runs scored and a lot more hits and home runs and stuff like that. You also have a lot of guys, there's top prospects from every organization, so you've got guys playing behind you and playing against you that are the best and going to be big leaguers, so it's a really good test for everyone to see how they stack up against the best in the minor leagues."

In a recent interview on the Nationals' official blog, Director of Player Development Doug Harris told MLB.com writer Mike Feigen that what really mattered for Purke and lefty Sammy Solis this fall was simply taking the mound each time their respective turns in the rotation came around:

"The first thing is maintaining their health. They’re taking the ball every fifth day and they have a five-inning cap. After an abbreviated season, they’re increasing their volume, which will really allow us to expand their innings next year. That’s a critical thing for us. They’ll continue to work on fastball command and the quality of their secondary stuff."

Purke said much the same in the interview on the AFL podcast. "My biggest things is, coming back from surgery, just trying to make all my starts," he explained. "I've had the last couple of years where I haven't been able to pitch as much as I wanted to and stuff, so I've just been trying to just make all my starts and go out there and pitch and compete and try to command all my pitches in the zone."

Six starts in, Purke has taken each turn. Will the 23-year-old start the 2014 campaign at Double-A after pitching at Low and High-A this past season? In spite of the fact that he returned from surgery and finally appears to be healthy, the left-hander dropped off Baseball America's Top 10 Nationals' prospect list for 2014 when it was released last month.

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