Drafted in the first round by the Rangers in 2009, Matt Purke turned down a massive, over-slot signing bonus to attend Texas Christian University and retry his hand in this year’s draft. While Purke was originally offered $6 million to sign with Texas, the MLB commissioner’s office vetoed the contract due to the Rangers’ financial disarray. The organization then reduced their offer to $4 million in hopes that both Purke and the commissioner’s office could work with that new figure. However, Purke believed his talent– as immense as it is– was more valuable than $4 million and would fetch more in this season’s draft. Questions’ about his shoulder’s health, though, may have actually depressed his value be a couple million dollars.
When healthy, Purke’s repertoire—marked by a nasty curveball– rates atop this year’s draft stock. From the left side, his curveball is the best in this year’s class—sitting 78-81 and featuring sharp 11-5 break. Coming from a ¾ arm angle, Purke can morph his breaking ball into a more slurvy pitch with some lateral movement to complement the sharp, hammer curveball he uses as his put-away offering. Often times he’ll add velocity to his breaking ball and spin it with razor-sharp slider movement or he’ll backdoor it against righties down and away. His advanced breaking pitches should make him effective against both righties and lefties despite his tendency to throw across his body. At present, his curve is a major league strikeout pitch and it even has potential for more if Purke can cleanup his mechanics.
Though Purke’s breaking ball turns heads, his fastball velocity isn’t too shabby either. His heater sits comfortably in the low 90s and regularly hits 93-94 mph. His long arms and fingers add plenty of rise and tail to his four and two-seam fastballs and his lanky delivery adds deception and life. When his mechanics are under control, he commands his heater within the zone and is able to consistently throw quality strikes.
To go with his immense one-two punch, Purke also throws a cutter and a solid change-up– potentially average once he develops better feel for it. While he hasn’t had to throw either pitch very much, both have developed into serviceable offerings. His cutter features sharp, boring action in on the hands of lefties and he can spot it down-and-away from righties with with back-door movement when needed. Thrown with good arm speed, his change-up flashes solid potential as well and the pitch has about 6-8 mph of velocity differential from his fastball.
As 2010′s Louisville Slugger and Baseball America Freshman of the Year, Purke’s amateur career suggests big league stardom. While his recent shoulder soreness will scare off many MLB ball clubs, Purke’s star power should still garner him a first-round signing bonus. With more work and cleaner mechanics, Purke could have four average to plus offerings from the left side. Still just a college sophomore, Purke’s poise and mound presence are surprisingly advanced for his age. He knows how to use each of his pitches and he attacks hitters with a rock-solid nerve. He’s confident in his stuff, shows good mound presence and isn’t afraid to challenge hitters in any count. Simply put, a left-handed pitcher with this package of tools is a rare find.
After leading the Horned Frogs to the College World Series last June, Purke has run into some bad luck this year. Scouts’ worries about Purke’s frail build and his tendency to throw across his body were validated when the young southpaw went down with shoulder bursitis last April. While the diagnosis wasn’t dire, shoulder problems are enough to scare off at least a few teams and to take off a few million from his signing bonus.
Purke’s build and mechanics aren’t ideal for a starting pitcher. While he does have a tall and projectable frame, he’s downright skinny at present and he’ll need to add fifteen to twenty pounds of muscle before he can compete for a spot in a big league rotation. With questions looming about his durability already, it’s easy to understand why many believe he doesn’t have the stamina for a 30+ start big league season. While his mechanics add deception, he does throw across his body— putting plenty of stress on his shoulder. He also needs to add strength to his trunk in order to maintain his balance and command throughout a full season.