General Manager Mike Rizzo spent the weekend in Houston in negotiations with Peter Vescovo, the representative for Nationals third-round draft choice Matt Purke, a Nationals official said. Purke, a left-handed starting pitcher from Texas Christian, may be the most challenging player left for the Nationals to sign with the deadline looming at midnight Monday night.
The Nationals have yet to sign any of their top four draft picks, with Anthony Rendon (Rice infielder, No. 6 overall), Alex Meyer (Kentucky pitcher, No. 23 overall) and outfielder Brian Goodwin (Miami Dade College outfielder, No. 34 overall) still unsigned.
It should not be a surprise that those players, highly regarded talents represented by Scott Boras, are not signed before the day of the deadline. The Nationals expected those negotiations to come down to the wire, as did their negotiations with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper the previous two years, even though Strasburg and Harper were No. 1 overall picks and far more high-profile cases. Only 10 of 33 first-round picks have signed so far, even with the deadline less than 36 hours away.
Rendon, Meyer and Goodwin represent fairly straightforward cases as opposed to Purke. The Rangers drafted Purke, a hard-throwing left-hander with a wicked changeup, out of high school with the 14th overall pick in 2009. The Rangers and Purke could not agree on a signing bonus, largely because MLB had taken over the bankrupt Rangers and would not allow the team to offer the $6 million Purke reportedly wanted.
So Purke went to TCU instead and, heading into this college season, he was regarded as a possible top-five overall pick. Then Purke missed a month with a shoulder injury, which scared teams away and limited him to only 11 starts for TCU this season. (He compiled a 1.71 ERA with 61 strikeouts and 20 walks over 52 2/3 innings.)
The Nationals chose Purke with the 96th overall pick with the understanding that both his health and his “signability” posed a risk. The Nationals wanted to see how Purke performed in a summer league, such as the Cape Cod League, but Purke decided instead to work out at home in Houston. The Nationals brought Purke to Nationals Park in July to administer a physical, which convinced them Purke’s shoulder is fit and healthy.
The question now is whether the Nationals and Purke can come to an agreement. Baseball America’s Jim Callis, a foremost expert on the draft, has expressed doubt the sides will agree on a contract. It’s a tough decision for Purke. He could enhance his draft stock with another season at TCU and perhaps make himself a potential first overall pick. But he would also risk injury and turn down millions of dollars for the second time.
The answer will come Monday, after Rizzo spent the weekend trying to ensure it would be a good one for the Nationals.