Jul 042013
 

With the threat of a suicide squeeze, the Winston-Salem infield had to play in with two outs in the 9th inning against Potomac leadoff man Billy Burns. The extra step or two in gave the speedy outfielder the margin he needed to shoot one past the Dash third baseman for a 2-1 walkoff win last night.
mattpurkedebut
It was the fifth walkoff win, and the 50th win overall for the P-Nats this season, but almost an afterthought considering who the starting pitcher was.

The announced pitcher had been Ivan Pineyro, who had pitched last Thursday in a game suspended by rain. With four pitchers throwing in the interim, it was his turn in the rotation. To your right can see that that is not a righthander warming up but a lefty.

Starting a day earlier than what sources had said, was one Matthew Taylor Purke, the Nationals’ 3rd Round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

It continues the Nationals’ pattern of minimizing the exposure and scrutiny of high-profile prospects (e.g. preventing Stephen Strasburg from starting in MD or VA, skipping Bryce Harper from Low-A to AA in 2011) as today is one of the few times the paid attendance listed in the Potomac box score will be closer to the number of people versus the number of limbs or bones.

With the caveat that you see in the header, here’s my scouting report on Purke’s first High-A start.

There’s an obsession with velocity nowadays. It’s invariably the first question I get asked via Twitter. Perhaps I’m feeding the beast, but the reports of low-to-mid-90s heat are true.

What struck me more was the movement on his pitches. Rare was the fastball that came in straight. More often was the heater that had what Ryan Kelley from Baseball Newshound described here as “spin…with razor-sharp slider movement.” The southpaw also unleashed a handful of both his slurve and the 11-5 curve, but stayed mostly with the fastball in the early going.

The command last night, however, was spotty. Purke ran up long counts to five of 22 batters faced, with 20+ pitch* innings in the 1st and 5th. But let’s not forget who he was facing — Winston-Salem is the cream of the crop offensively in the Carolina League. They get some credit for working the count, too.

The lone run Purke gave up came in the 1st, on sacrifice fly following a triple to right-center that Justin Miller, a utility player, couldn’t track down. Had he gotten the next two out, the narrative might have been “well, with Caleb Ramsey or Randolph Oduber out there, they go scoreless” but he gave up a single and hit a batter so it’s not that simple.

The second inning was perhaps his best, even though most would say the fourth, in which he dispatched the 7-8-9 batters on less than 10 pitches. Winston-Salem got a break on an error by Cutter Dykstra and ambushed Purke on first-pitch fastball to put two runners on. The count went to 3-0 but Purke bore down to get it to 3-2 and got the first out on a grounder to short, then ran the next batter to 0-2 and got the double play on a grounder to second to escape further damage.

The third saw Purke get two quick outs then give up a single and a five-pitch walk before retiring the fifth batter on a flyout to center.

After the aforementioned 1-2-3 4th inning, Purke got the leadoff man in the 5th on three pitches but walked the second batter on six and needed more than seven pitches to put away Dash SS Chris Curley. He got the final batter on routine flyout to right to finish his night, roughly 70 pitches thrown over five innings with one run given up on four hits with two walks, two strikeouts, a wild pitch, and a hit batsmen.

All in all, a decent outing.

Jul 012013
 

Moving On Up for NPP
The Hagerstown Suns have announced that LHP Matt Purke has been promoted to the Potomac Nationals.

It’s been a long, long, long time coming for the 22-year-old southpaw who was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 First Year Player Draft despite shoulder woes that inevitably led to his having surgery last offseason after making just three starts in 2012.

The past two seasons he’s made limited appearances in spring training and held back from joining a full-season minor-league team until mid-to-late May. Pitch counts limited his appearances in the early going in 2013, but have apparently increased of late as he’s been able to go five and six innings, respectively, in his last two starts.

For the season, he’s 1-1 with a pitcher’s line (ERA/FIP/WHIP) of 2.48/2.54/1.10 in his six starts with 7 walks and 41 strikeouts, which average per nine innings at 2.17 and 12.72 respectively.

With the recent spate of rainouts, as well as the promotion of Taylor Hill last week, it’s unclear when Purke will make his High-A debut. He last pitched on Friday, which with ordinary rest would have him pitching on Wednesday or Thursday.

Mar 272013
 

Baseball America for NPPLike slideshows of cheerleaders and WAGs for Bleacher Report*, Baseball America can’t resist another chance to re-issue a list, which it did today with the 2013 Organizational Talent Rankings.
*Full disclosure: I can’t resist bulldogs or visual puns.

As a system, the Nats came in at #13 — up three spots from the #16 ranking last December — but perhaps of more interest is the “new” Top 10 list, which is as follows:

1. Anthony Rendon, 3B (AA)
2. Lucas Giolito, RHP (XST)
3. Brian Goodwin, OF (AA)
4. A.J. Cole, RHP (A+)
5. Matt Skole, 1B-3B (AA)
6. Nathan Karns, RHP (AA)
7. Christan Garcia, RHP (MLB D.L.)
8. Eury Perez, OF (AAA)
9. Sammy Solis, LHP (XST)
10. Matt Purke, LHP (XST)

In a nutshell, A.J. Cole was inserted at #4 and the “old” nos. 4-9 were moved down one spot. Zach Walters was the “bumped” #10 prospect. My projected destinations for where they’ll be for Opening Day are in parentheses.

The Washington farm was ranked #12 last year in this revision, following a brief moment on paper when the system was rated #1 prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade.

Mar 062013
 

A five-run 6th opened up a 2-1 lead as the Nationals won their fourth straight spring training game, 7-1 over the Astros. After the game, the Nationals announced that LHP Matt Purke had been optioned to the minors.

Dan Haren made his second appearance and let in the lone Houston run on two hits and a walk while striking out two. Southpaw Zach Duke got the win with three scoreless frames in his third outing. Colorful closer Rafael Soriano made his Nats debut with a scoreless inning following Duke. Jeremy Accardo and Tyler Clippard followed suit with a pair of 1-2-3 innnings to close out the game.

Corey Brown’s two-run, two-out single off former teammate Brad Peacock closed out the scoring in the 6th. An error by former Nats farmhand Justin Maxwell gave the CF reserve just one RBI as he went 1-for-2 off the bench. Here’s how the notable minor-leaguers fared in the late innings:

• Carlos Rivero went 0-for-1 in LF
• Matt Skole went 0-for-1 as the PH-DH
• Chris Marrero scored a run as a PR and went 0-for-1 at 1B
• Zach Walters scored a run as a PR and went 0-for-1 at SS
• Sandy Leon caught the 9th but made no PAs
• Anthony Rendon went 0-for-1 with a strikeout at 3B

With the win, the Nationals improved to 5-3-2 in Grapefruit League action. This afternoon the Nats head to Clearwater to visit the Philadelphia Phillies.

                                          #                                     #                                     #
As anticipated, Purke was optioned to the minors as he recovers from what was finally revealed — after months of silence — an arthroscopic procedure last August, as reported by Mark “No, not the Facebook guy” Zuckerman on Monday.

Officially, he was assigned to the Hagerstown Suns, though he’ll begin the season in purgatory extended Spring Training. He’s expected to begin pitching in competitive games in May for the second straight season.

Best guess for his first start: May 29th in Asheville, a midweek day game on the road in warm weather that would give him roughly 17-18 starts before hitting the 100-inning limit in late August.

Dec 192012
 

Only a couple of surprises here, but let’s cut to the chase before we discuss…

1. Anthony Rendon, 3b
2. Lucas Giolito, rhp
3. Brian Goodwin, of
4. Matt Skole, 3b
5. Nathan Karns, rhp
6. Christian Garcia, rhp
7. Eury Perez, of
8. Sammy Solis, lhp
9. Matt Purke, lhp
10. Zach Walters, ss

For me, the surprises are Christian Garcia, Nathan Karns, Matt Skole and Matt Purke. My bad on overlooking Garcia — in my head, he’s already “graduated” and will be a bullpen fixture; clearly I’m getting ahead of myself — which, along with Skole and Karns, is a bit of a departure from the slavish devotion to youth. Of course, that Skole and Karns have been getting so much virtual ink may also have something to do with it.

Purke surprises me for the same reason I was sure that Solis would make the list: His surgery wouldn’t be held against him. Indeed, BA did not deviate from its norms of hyperbole when selecting Lucas Giolito as having the organization’s “Best Fastball” and “Best Curveball” despite his UCL replacement (yes, TJ surgery has a high success rate, but it’s not 100%). Still, it’s a little odd that Purke fell beneath Solis in the rankings despite having a less invasive procedure done.

The free article focuses on the parent club and how the system produced the talent that fueled the unexpected (for the honest, at least) playoff run in 2012. And of course, BA is effusive in its praise for the selections of Strasburg and Harper in ’09 and ’10 as well as Rendon in ’11 and Giolito in ’12 (as for the rest of the 2012 draft, BA was like the lawyers responding to Billy Ray Valentine’s plea for help in the men’s club in “Trading Places”).

The projections for where the 2013 Top 10 will start the year were as follows:
MLB — Garcia
AAA — Perez, Walters
AA — Rendon, Goodwin, Skole, Karns
Lo-A — Purke
XST/Rehab — Giolito, Solis

Again, no big shocks — though the verb for Skole was “reach,” not “start” and they also qualified his placement with “his hands are sure enough to play at either corner,” which I can’t fault them for since everybody outside the organization sees him as a 1B but the Nationals have yet to fully commit to the position switch. Likewise, they projected Solis to start in XST and then head north on a rehab tour. My guess would be that he goes to Hagerstown for the three-inning stints and then moves up to Potomac for when he’s given the five-inning limit, then moved to Harrisburg if/when the coaches like what they see (that’s my CYA if/when he gets the bump despite poor nos.)

Dec 052012
 

The pattern of a (near-)unanimous few then the biases of the many continues with the votes for the Nationals’ Top 10 Pitchers. Thirty different pitchers received votes, but only two appeared on each of the thirteen ballots cast (Lucas Giolito and Nathan Karns) while two more were named on all but one (Sammy Solis and Matt Purke).

1. Lucas Giolito
2. Nathan Karns
3. Matt Purke
4. Sammy Solis
5. Christian Garcia
6. Erik Davis
7. Danny Rosenbaum
8. Aaron Barrett
9. Brett Mooneyham
10. Robbie Ray

Others receiving votes: Rob Wort, Rafael Martin, Neil Holland, Paul Demny, Pedro Encarnacion, Taylor Jordan, Christian Meza, Jeff Mandel, Cole Kimball, Brad Meyers, Wirkin Estevez, Pat McCoy, Ryan Tatusko, Robert Benincasa, Derek Self, Hector Nelo, Josh Smoker, Jack McGeary, Nick Lee

Perhaps more disturbing is that we don’t see a pitcher who hasn’t had shoulder or elbow surgery until the #6 hurler, Erik Davis, who instead has had knee problems, according to MASN’s Byron Kerr.

Close behind is the realization that half of this list is 25 or older. Put another way: just 10 of these 30 pitchers voted for were born after 1990.

As I wrote back in September in discussing the Nationals farm, it’s pretty clear that the organization’s strength has shifted away from developing pitchers to position players. Perhaps more evident: surgery and long periods of rehab seem to be the gamble the Nats are willing to make — regardless of a pitcher’s age or ailment — to get pitching potential. What remains to be seen is whether this approach will pay off frequently enough to warrant the shifting of innings or roles away from healthier and/or lower-ceiling guys.

I hope folks enjoyed this experiment in crowdsourcing. Next up on the minor-league calendar is the Rule 5 draft. The Nats are nearly certain not to be takers in the MLB phase (thus, no preview this year), and may even have a player or two taken, though the odds are extremely short that any player taken will be gone for good.

May 212012
 
Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Syracuse Lost, 5-2 @ Toledo,
10:30 a.m.
Roark (2-5, 4.38) vs.
Weber (3-1, 2.18)
Harrisburg Won, 4-0 @ Altoona,
6:30 p.m.
Mandel (4-2, 3.45) vs.
Baker (2-4, 5.18)
Potomac Won, 4-2 @ Wilmington,
6:35 p.m.
Swynenberg (3-1, 3.95) vs.
Billo (3-3, 5.58)
Hagerstown Lost, 3-1 vs. Greensboro,
7:05 p.m.
Karns (1-0, 2.10) vs.
Fernandez (4-0, 1.91)

Toledo 5 Syracuse 2
• Maya (ND) 7IP, 2H, R, ER, 2BB, K
• Wilkie (BS, 1; L, 0-2) ⅔ IP, 4H, 4R, 4ER, 0BB, K, HR (3R)
• Brown 1-4, R, HR, RBI
• Teahen 1-4, R, 2B

A pinch-hit, two-out, three-run home run by former Chief Brad Eldred ended this one in walkoff fashion as Toledo rallied for four in the 9th to beat Syracuse, 5-2. Josh Wilkie blew his first save, charged with four runs on four hits over 2/3rds an inning. The implosion spoiled another fine start by Yunesky Maya, who allowed just two hits, two walks, and one run over the first seven innings. Corey Brown drove in the first Chiefs run with a leadoff HR in the 1st while Brett Carroll’s sac fly in the 7th broke a 1-1 tie. Pat Lehman and Corey VanAllen divvied up the 8th, each earning a hold.

Harrisburg 4 Bowie 0
• Demny (W, 3-2) 8IP, 2H, 0R, 3BB, 4K
• Garcia 1IP, 1H, 0R, BB, K
• Rahl 1-3, R, HR, 2RBI
• Pahuta 1-4, R, HR, 2RBI

Paul Demny’s MBP demons were nowhere to be found as the 22-y.o. turned in his best outing of the season with eight scoreless innings in a 4-0 Harrisburg win over Bowie. Tim Pahuta and Chris Rahl both smacked two-run shots in the four-run 4th, as the Senators prevented a BaySox sweep and stopped a three-game tailspin. Christian Garcia worked around two 9th-inning baserunners (walk, hit) to preserve the shutout and lower his ERA to 1.65.

Potomac 4 Carolina 2
• Demmin 4IP, 2H, 0R, 3BB, 5K
• Holland (SV, 1) 2IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 0K
• Oduber 2-3, R, HR, 2B, 2RBI
• Bloxom 1-3, R, HR, RBI

Justin Bloxom and Randolph Oduber both homered Sunday Afternoon In Woodbridge.
Byron Kerr passes along news that Matt Purke continues to be the sirloin that the local diner will have on special “next week,” as the southpaw is set to go Thursday in Viera after pitching last Thursday. If activated (and not reassigned) for his next turn in the rotation, that would be during the next Potomac homestand on May 28 to June 3.

Delmarva 3 Hagerstown 1
• Turnbull (L, 1-3) 5IP, 6H, 3R, 2ER, 2BB, 2K
• McKenzie 3IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 1K
• Souza 0-1, SH, SF, RBI, E
• Skole 1-4, 2B
• Ramirez 1-2, 2B

The Suns were the latest victims of Shorebirds teenage phenom Dylan Bundy, who was perfect for four innings before Matt Skole led off the 5th with a double, as Delmarva beat Hagerstown, 3-1. J.P. Ramirez also doubled while Brian Goodwin singled, as the Suns were held to just three hits and one walk (neither by Billy Burns, ending his on-base streak at 30 games; Kerr gets the blame for the curse ;-). Steve Souza drove in the sole Hagerstown run with a 7th-inning sac fly.

Dec 022011
 

Fear not, seamheads. The list will be here before the weekend.

The turnout the second time around was a little less — 17 vs. 19 — and lot closer. Twenty different hurlers got a vote, with four named on every ballot. No perfect score this time, which was not a surprise. Without further ado, the results in reverse order with points in parentheses:

10. Rafael Martin (14)
9. Danny Rosenbaum (28)
8. Brad Meyers (44)
7. Robbie Ray (68)
6. Alex Meyer (90)
5. Matt Purke (106)
4. Tommy Milone (110)
3. Sammy Solis (114)
2. A.J. Cole (142)
1. Brad Peacock (166)

Others receiving votes: Kylin Turnbull (13), Wirkin Estevez (11), Taylor Jordan, Josh Smoker, Paul Demny, Taylor Hill, Atahualpa Severino, Marcos Frias, Cole Kimball, Pat Lehman

As you’ve probably already surmised — and the mathmetically inclined, deduced — Peacock, Cole, and Solis were the every-ballot picks; Ray was the fourth. Purke, Milone, and Alex Meyer were named on 16 of 17 ballots. After that, it’s scattershot.

Unlike the bats, I think this list shows our biases, Brad Meyers and Rafael Martin in particular. I called out the votes for Turnbull and Estevez because you can see that just one or two more votes would have put them in the list. I voted for “For The Weekend” because he’s one of the handful of Nats’ teenage pitchers that have pitched north of Viera, but didn’t for Turnbull because he’s thrown less than a 100 innings since H.S. and the guess is that he’ll be used as a reliever not a starter.

Unfortunately, the starter vs. reliever bias is probably hurting Josh Smoker the most, but like favoring youth, it’s prospect prejudice that’s right more often than it’s wrong. I’d have probably voted for Jordan if he’d finished the season at Hagerstown, but fair or not, my inclination is to hold injuries against a pitcher until he proves that he’s healthy. And I write that having had some of the problems (back, hip, knee) that come with the pitcher’s physique without any of the incipient stress (or talent) of actually throwing a baseball.

Have at it in the comments. The winter meetings start next week and finish with the Rule 5 draft. Yesterday, we got a little touch of the hot stove and let’s hope it burns steadily for the next two months.

Nov 202011
 

[Ed. Note: Another guest column from frequent commenter BinM]

Here’s an alternative rating to how well (or poorly) the Washington Nationals prospects performed with Scottsdale in the AFL this year, using simple stock market terminology. Did they either gain, lose, or maintain value in your eyes, based on their AFL results (Buy, Sell, or Hold)?

These are solely my opinions, and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher and/or its employee

Bryce Harper, OF — 2010 Draft Pick (#1 overall, 19yo)
Coming off an injury out of AA Hagerstown, he delivered as expected in a repeat role for Scottsdale, producing an offensive line of 25GP, .333BA/.400OBP/.634SLG/.338BPA, 14EBH, 4SB with a 16-game hitting streak to boot. His OF errors still show he has room for overall improvement in the field.
Opinion: He’s only 19; still an unquestionable ‘Buy’ player for 2012.

Pat Lehman, RHP —2009 Draft Pick (13th round, 25yo)
Coming off a solid season divided between High-A and AA, this , 25yo) stumbled when presented with a chance to move up in the Nationals RP rankings. His final line of 12GP, 14⅔IP, 1.98WHIP, .382OBA, 4.3:1K-W, 2BS, 0-4 W-L left more than a bit to be desired for a prospect.
Opinion: Sell. This is basically the same kind of results seen from Jeff Mandel and Josh Wilkie in 2009, who also had chances to move up but posted uninspiring AFL results and slid into OG status.

Rafael Martin, RHP — 2010 Int’l Free Agent (27yo)
Signing with Washington just weeks shy of age 26, he entered the 2011 AFL season as a bit of a wildcard, with no real expectations. His season in Scottsdale yielded an overall line of 10GP, 12IP, 1.17WHIP, .200 OBA, 1.3:1K-W, showing both a cut fastball and a sinker.
Opinion: Hedging toward a ‘Buy’ status, but may still cap off at the AAA level.

Derek Norris, C — 2007 draft pick (4th round, 22yo)
Coming off a decent season at Harrisburg, Norris compiled a very good results in his second pass at the AFL, with a 21GP, 90PA, .276BA/.367OBP/.382SLG/.261BPA, 22RP, 4SB offensive line, as well as a 17-game on-base streak. The bat is there for this converted catcher, but the defense still needs work.
Opinion: Buy. His eye at the plate is rock-solid, he’s quicker than you think on the bases, and that bat should play somewhere in the field in the next year or two.

Matt Purke, LHP — 2011 Draft Pick (3rd round, 21yo)
Purke was a slightly suprising addition to the Scottsdale roster who seems to have settled down after a horrid start. His final line of 7GP, 7⅓ IP, 2.05WHIP, 1.2:1K-W, .353BAA shows some additional work is needed.
Opinion: Hold. I’m not yet convinced that he’s completely healthy, and might spend at least a partial season in a minor-league bullpen before returning to a starters’ role. As a result, he could still be a year or two out.

Sammy Solis, LHP — 2010 Draft Pick (2nd round, 23yo)
An up-and-down fall season for the southpaw, following a regular season shortened by minor injuries. His final line of 7GS, 26IP, 4.50ERA, 1.73WHIP, 1.4:1K-W, while still possessing a high-end FB, and the ongoing development of a solid overhand curve bodes well for his future with the organization.
Opinion: Buy, but don’t overcommit. He’s a LH with a likely #3SP role in the majors as his top end, but could still be two years away.

Zach Walters, IF — 2010 Draft Pick by Arizona (9th round, 22yo)
Coming from the Diamondbacks in a July trade for Jason Marquis, Walters was a steady player at SS in Potomac late in 2011. Shifted to 3B by other prospects in Scottsdale, he compiled a less-than-impressive 24GP, 89PA, .205BA/.253OPB/.301SLG/.189BPA, 6EBH, 14RP, 5.3:1 K:W overall line, with a high number of errors (albeit out of position).
Opinion: Hold. He was clearly ‘in over his head’ this fall season, but that doesn’t preclude some growth as a player going forward. A player to watch in 2012.

Nov 162011
 

Bryce Harper continued his torrid hitting while Scorpions remain tepid, losing again by a 4-1 count.

Harper went 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and a stolen base. Defensively, he caught a foul fly but committed his sixth error on a missed catch.

Derek Norris remained ice-cold with another oh-fer, striking out twice in four at-bats and also committing an error on a throw. That was his seventh miscue of the fall.

Zach Walters wouldn’t be left out of this mistake-fest, committing his sixth error while playing third base. Offensively, he went 1-for-4 with a strikeout.

On the pitching side, Matt Purke turned in another scoreless outing, his fourth straight. He allowed a hit but struck out two, throwing 12 of his 16 pitches for strikes.

Scottsdale hosts Peoria for its final home game tonight, before finishing up the 2011 season tomorrow afternoon. Sammy Solis is not listed as a starter for either game.