Nationals Prospect Matt Purke to Undergo Tommy John Surgery


Mar 1, 2014; Melbourne, FL, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher

Matt Purke

(50) pitches during the third inning against the Atlanta Braves at Space Coast Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Add another tally to the Tommy John figures; Washington Nationals’ right hander Matt Purke will have the procedure performed later today and a year to six month, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweets. 

For baseball, this is yet another victim in what is fast becoming a mystifying pandemic. The infamous elbow surgery has already laid grave to a host of up and coming starters, from Miami phenom Jose Fernandez to Pittsburgh prospect Jameson Taillon. According to a list compiled by the Hardball Times’ Jon Roegele, Purke will be the 41st player (38th pitcher) since March 1st to go under the knife for this same procedure.

The surgery is particularly endemic among young players. All three of the hitters and 28 of the 38 injured pitchers were 26 years of age or under. Only two were over thirty years old.

For Purke, this is just the latest struggle, one in a long line of setbacks endured since the start of his career.

The Nationals had high expectations for Purke when they drafted him, giving him well above-slot bonus of 4.15 million out of the third round in 2011. But the promising right hander has been beset by shoulder ailments and as a result, has made only 29 starts in the three years since. When healthy, his performance has varied from mediocre to abysmal. Before his latest injury, Purke was 1-6 with an 8.06 ERA in eight starts for Double-A Harrisburg. He walked almost as many as he struck out.

The good news is that the prognosis for Tommy John is relatively high, perhaps actually better than that of Purke’s shoulder woes. A recent study by the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that 83% of the 216 major league pitchers to undergo the procedure from 1986 to 2012 returned to the show. The success rate for the last decade is even higher, as medical advancements have vastly improved the operation.

One cavveat: when Purke returns, there’s a chance it might not be with the Nationals. Because he signed a big league deal when drafted, Purke will be out of options by the time he finishes his rehab. His stats indicate that he still needs more seasoning in the minor leagues, but he would need to pass through waivers to get there.