The Washington Nationals felt comfortable dealing prospects like Brad Peacock, Tom Milone and A.J. Cole, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo explained to reporters after the deal, because there is already another wave of pitchers coming up in the organization. "With the [Matt] Purkes and the [Sammy] Solises and the [Alex] Meyers of the world," Rizzo said, you can make a deal that sends two of the top ten pitchers, a major-league ready arm and the top catching prospect on Baseball America's last list of your organization's Top 10 Prospects to Oakland in return for A's left-hander Gio Gonzalez and right-handed prospect Robert Gilliam. Though Baseball America's Jim Callis (@JimCallisBA) wrote on Twitter recently that the deal would drop the Nats a few spots in their organizational rankings, the Nationals were the ranked as the no.1 organization in baseball when this year's edition of their Prospect Handbook went to the printers.
"We also have a wave behind them of the [Robbie] Rays and the [Paul] Demnys and those type of guys behind them," Rizzo told reporters in December, "So, we feel that we're set up very, very well for the long haul."
Both 2011 1st Round pick, Meyer, and 2010 2nd Rounder, Solis, were on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list when it was unveiled this week. Matt Purke was ranked ahead of Solis on Baseball America's most recent Top 10 Prospects list as the top left-hander in the Nationals' organization before he's thrown a pitch in the minor leagues. The Nationals' GM described the 21-year-old, 2011 3rd Round pick, in an interview with ESPN980's Thom Loverro last August as a, "... polished accomplished pitcher," who has, "... really performed outstandingly well from his high school days through his freshman and sophomore year at TCU."
"He was a high draft and high dollar guy out of high school, that didn't work out," Rizzo said, referring to the events that took place when the Rangers drafted him in the 1st Round in 2009. Purke 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 in 2010, leading the Horned Frogs to the College World Series. "And this year," Rizzo told the ESPN980 host, "as a sophomore, although he had some shoulder bursitis in his arm [and] still was (5-1) with, I think, a 1.70 ERA." It was a 1.71 ERA actually, to go along with a .187 BAA, 61 K's (10.42 K/9) and 20 walks (3.42 BB/9) in 11 starts and 52.2 IP. The Nats gave the left-hander a 4-year/$4.15 million dollar major league deal when they took him with the 96th overall pick in the 3rd Round of this past June's draft.
The Nationals were comfortable giving a player who'd struggled with injuries all year a major league deal in large part because he'd submitted to an MRI arthrogram after the draft when he'd visited Washington to meet with team officials and doctors. "I just knew that, the only thing I could do was lay it out there and say 'Do what you want to do'," Purke explained to the D.C. press corps during his introductory press conference this past August, so he told the team, "... do the test, look at it, get your own assessment of it and then we can talk."
"He's a power pitcher that has good command of his four pitches," Rizzo told ESPN980's Mr. Loverro, "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." At the press conference to introduce Purke, Rizzo said that the plan was to send the left-hander to Florida, "... and we're going ot have our pitching coordinator, Spin Williams down there. 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."
The Nationals were comfortable enough with what they saw in Florida that they sent Purke to the Arizona Fall League, where he struggled at first pitching against the top prospects in the game, allowing 12 hits, three walks and 11 earned runs in 7.1 IP, though all eleven runs came in his first three outings and he ended the AFL season with four scoreless innings pitched over four outings. Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak spoke to both Doug Harris, the Nats' director of player development and Paul Menhart, the Nats' pitching coach who accompanied their prospects to Arizona this fall, and wrote that, "His fastball velocity rose to 96 mph, and that sharpness he’d been searching for began to return to all of his pitches as he worked through a few mechanical tweaks," in the AFL.
Now Purke will take part in at least the first few weeks of Spring Training with the major league team before he's assigned somewhere in the system to begin his pro career, with High-A Potomac a likely destination. How long before he moves up to Double-A wheere he'd be reunited with a promoted Paul Menhart, his development will determine? How quick a "quick-to-the-big-leagues" pitcher is Purke? The Nationals gave the left-hander a major league deal and were willing to trade major-league ready pitchers because they believe they've acquired enough high-end arms in the last few drafts to make it possible.
"The plan three years ago was to attack the draft before the new CBA," Rizzo told reporters this week, "That was our focus, that was our vision, that was our strategy going into it three years ago and we did it, we attacked it for the last three years and I don't think you'll see a draft class like last year's because of the new CBA rules."
Purke might have been the biggest risk they took over the last three drafts. Is he a quick-to-the-big-leagues lefty or, "'... a guy with shoulder issues, a guy with a bad delivery and a guy that you probably shouldn't be spending $4.4 million on,'" as FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal quoted a source saying last summer?