Matt Purke appears to be back on track in the AFL.
If you love prospects, then it doesn’t get any better than the Arizona Fall League.
With six teams comprised of baseball’s top prospects from all 30 organizations, the AFL provides an opportunity to witness the future of the game on one field.
This year’s crop of talent is especially deep, including 21 players that ranked among our end-of-season top 100 prospects.
After looking at the hottest and coldest pitchers at every minor league level during the regular season, we’ve decided to continue the series into the fall so as to offer insight into the happenings of the AFL.
So, here’s the second installment of the hottest and coldest pitchers in this year's Arizona Fall League.
Matt Purke, LHP, Washington Nationals
2013 AFL Stats: 12 IP, 3 H, 4 BB, 15 K (3 GS)
The Nationals signed Purke to a major-league contract with a well-over-slot bonus as a third-round pick in 2011, despite the fact that shoulder problems limited him to only 11 starts at TCU during the spring.
Unsurprisingly, the injury carried over into the left-hander’s professional career, and he was forced to undergo season-ending surgery in late August 2012.
After returning to the mound in late May 2013, Purke proceeded to post a 3.80 ERA and 82/25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 90 innings (18 starts) between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac.
Looking to make up for time missed during the regular season, the 23-year-old has opened the AFL on fire and has yet to allow an earned run through three starts. Adam Wells was on hand for Purke’s outing on Wednesday and had this to say:
Been impressed with Purke through 3. Not entirely sure about the CB, but still 91-92 with deceptive changeup.— Adam Wells (@adamwells1985) October 23, 2013
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami Marlins
2013 AFL Stats: 10.2 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 11 K (3 GS)
Heaney didn’t take the mound for the first time this season until May 20 after suffering a lat injury during spring training. But once he got going, the 22-year-old was quick to make up for the lost time by posting a 0.88 ERA and .193 opponent batting average with 66 strikeouts over 61.2 innings in the Florida State League.
The left-hander finished the season at Double-A Jacksonville and held his own with a 2.94 ERA in 33.2 innings.
Heaney flashed his mid-rotation potential during his first AFL start on Oct. 11, allowing only two hits with six strikeouts over three scoreless frames. The left-hander’s command has been noticeably less sharp in his last two outings, though he’s still managed to be effective.
Here’s what Adam Wells had to say about Heaney’s start on Tuesday:
Marlins LHP Andrew Heaney 89-91 in 1st inning. Flashed good change, got hit hard a couple times.— Adam Wells (@adamwells1985) October 22, 2013
Bo Schultz, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2013 AFL Stats: 13.1 IP, 12 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 15 K (3 GS)
Signed as a non-drafted free agent on June 18, 2008, Schultz spent the first five seasons of his professional career as a reliever and reached Double-A Mobile for the first time in late 2012.
However, after opening the 2013 season in the Triple-A Reno bullpen, the Diamondbacks decided to convert the right-hander into a starter and assigned him back to Double-A. The 28-year-old responded to the challenge by posting a 2.86 ERA in 85 innings.
Schultz’s newfound success as a starter has carried over into the AFL, as he’s now allowed only one earned run on nine hits and one walk with nine strikeouts over his last 10 innings (two starts).
Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2013 AFL Stats: 9 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 6 BB, 10 K (3 GS)
Coming off a breakout campaign in 2012 at Low-A Lansing, I expected Sanchez to take a huge step forward this past season after moving up to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.
However, that never happened, as the precocious right-hander spent over a month on the disabled list with shoulder soreness and ultimately logged only 86.1 innings.
Sanchez once again proved to be difficult to barrel with a .202 opponent batting average, but his 75/40 strikeout-to-walk ratio left something to be desired.
After struggling with his control in his first two AFL starts, Sanchez was dominant on Wednesday, when he held Surprise hitless for four innings with one walk and four strikeouts.
Nick Wittgren, RHP, Miami Marlins
2013 AFL Stats: 1 SV, 5.1 IP, 2 H, 11 K (5 G)
Selected in the ninth round of the 2012 draft out of Purdue, Wittgren was utterly dominant this year during his full-season debut.
Assigned to High-A Jupiter to open the season, the 22-year-old recorded 25 saves, a 0.83 ERA and a 59/10 strikeout-to-walk rate in 54.1 innings (48 games). As a result of his overwhelming success, the right-hander was promoted to Double-A Jacksonville in late August.
After allowing two hits in his first AFL relief appearance, Wittgren has turned in four consecutive hitless outings, during which he’s amassed one save and nine strikeouts. Expect him to make an impact out of the Marlins’ big-league bullpen in 2014.
Dominic Leone, RHP, Seattle Mariners
2013 AFL Stats: 2 SV, 5.1 IP, 3 H, BB, 8 K (4 G)
Leone may not look like much at 5’11”, 185 pounds, but don’t let his size fool you. Selected in the 16th round of the 2012 draft out of Clemson, Leone hopped on the fast track to the major leagues this year in his full-season debut.
Overall, the soon-to-be 22-year-old amassed 16 saves and posted a 2.25 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 64 innings between Low-A Clinton, High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson.
The right-hander has been one of the better pitchers so far in the AFL, collecting a pair of saves with eight strikeouts in 5.1 scoreless innings. Meanwhile, Leone’s average fastball velocity of 94.54 MPH, per MLBfarm.com, is 10th highest in the league.
Michael Lorenzen, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
2013 AFL Stats: 0-2, 9.2 IP, 19 H, 14 ER, 5 BB, 3 K (3 GS)
Selected with the No. 38 overall pick this past June, Lorenzen made stops at four minor-league levels over the final two months of the regular season.
The 21-year-old showed signs of fatigue down the stretch, though, as he posted a 5.40 ERA with 11 walks over 12 appearances between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola.
The Reds are having Lorenzen pitch in the AFL in order to build up arm strength after he logged only 22.2 innings as Cal State Fullerton’s closer and then another 21 innings as a professional. However, he has to be running on fumes at this point after also serving as Fullerton’s everyday center fielder in the spring.
So, don’t read too far into his three ugly starts this fall.
Adys Portillo, RHP, San Diego Padres
2013 AFL Stats: 6 IP, 5 H, 6 ER, 7 BB, 5 K (5 G)
Portillo took a huge step in the right direction in 2012, as he posted a 3.34 ERA and .193 opponent batting average with 107 strikeouts in 126.2 innings between Low-A Fort Wayne and Double-A Texas.
However, his 70 walks during that span left considerable room for improvement. The 21-year-old right-hander was limited to only 9.1 innings this past season at Fort Wayne and spent most of the year on the disabled list with a strained right triceps.
Portillo has been shaky in the early going of the AFL—though that was expected considering he last pitched in a game on June 25—with at least one walk in each of his five outings, and he’s now been scored on in back-to-back outings.
Grayson Garvin, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
2013 AFL Stats: 1-2, 12.1 IP, 14 H, 7 ER, 5 BB, 11 K (3 GS)
Selected with the No. 59 overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Vanderbilt, Garvin was given an aggressive assignment to High-A Charlotte for his professional debut the following year.
After 11 poor starts in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, the 6’6” left-hander underwent season-ending surgery on his elbow—an issue that may have plagued him dating back to 2009.
The soon-to-be 24-year-old returned to action in early July 2012 and ultimately registered a 1.59 ERA with 24 strikeouts over 11 starts between the Gulf Coast League and Charlotte.
After logging only 28.1 innings during the regular season in 2013, Garvin is trying to make up for the lost time and resuscitate his prospect stock in the AFL. On Tuesday, he allowed four earned runs on nine hits in 3.1 innings against Peoria.