Tigers Prospect Profile #38: Luke Putkonen

Luke Putkonen joined the organization with plenty of fanfare and hope that he could develop into a frontline starter. While that projection has shifted, Putkonen still has big league potential.

Luke Putkonen
Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Height: 6-6
Weight: 200
Born: 5/10/1986
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Background
Drafted in the third round out of North Carolina in 2007, expectations for Putkonen have changed since that time. He signed for $236,000 as a draft-eligible sophomore, after missing a year in college recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The six-foot-six right-hander toed the rubber in just three games for the Gulf Coast League Tigers that summer, giving up four earned runs in 8 2/3 innings. He didn't walk a batter and struck out nine in that brief summer showing.

Some early expectations had Putkonen heading to low-A West Michigan in 2008, but some shoulder trouble held him back in extended spring training before he was assigned to Oneonta. He pitched sparingly throughout the summer as his shoulder continued to act up, seeing action in only six games, all starts. In 24 2/3 innings, Luke allowed 24 hits and eight walks while striking out 17 and finishing with a 3.65 ERA.

Finally getting a crack at full-season ball in 2009, Putkonen put together a very nice season, starting 28 games for the Whitecaps, and logging nearly 150 innings. His 3.13 ERA was a solid showing for a player that spent the entire year in the league, and doubled the innings of many starters above him leader board.

The Tigers kept Putkonen moving up the ladder in 2010, sending him to the Florida State League to pitch for the Flying Tigers. This time he officially cracked the 150 inning mark, and made 26 starts (and one relief appearance), while making several of his numbers look almost identical to the prior year at a lower level.

Putkonen actually improved his hits allowed rate against the better competition of the FSL, while also maintaining his walk rate. His strikeout rate did suffer however, as he fell from nearly seven whiffs per nine innings, to just over five.

Scouting Report
There was a lot of talk at the time Putkonen left college that he could develop into a frontline starter with electric, swing-and-miss stuff, but that profile hasn't come to fruition. That's not to say Putkonen doesn't still have a strong arsenal, it's just different than what many were anticipating on draft day.

His fastball still has some zip, sitting at 91-92 mph while touching 94 with his four-seamer at times. His two-seam fastball has above-average sink to it, and prior to the 2010 season he had showed some solid groundball tendencies. He worked up in the zone a bit too much in 2010, and most scouts still see a guy that can induce grounders once his command is refined.

Putkonen mixes in a curveball, slider, and change-up at times, though none of them stand out as go to secondary offerings. His curveball has the most promise, working in the mid- to upper-70s with some bite. His slider often flattens out and he is prone to leaving it in the middle of the plate. His change-up could be average with more consistency, and works in the low-80s.

The biggest thing holding Putkonen back at this time is his lack of feel or pitchability. He doesn't demonstrate a true understanding of his craft, and without that his arsenal doesn't have the stuff to get by at higher levels.

With two healthy seasons in a row, concerns about Luke's durability are quickly disappearing, and he looks like he could be an innings eater at the back of a rotation at his peak.

Performance

Level

Team

W-L

ERA

G

GS

SV

SO

BB

IP

AVG

A+

Lakeland

9-7

3.18

27

26

0

87

44

152.2/font>

.257


Health Record
Putkonen's Tommy John surgery in college has had no lasting impacts, and his minor shoulder cleanup from 2008 is vanishing in the rearview mirror. He has a durable frame and solid mechanics that incorporate his lower half well. At this point, he doesn't have any elevated level of injury risk over a normal mid-20s pitcher.

The Future
The 2011 season should see Luke get his first crack at double-A with a trip to Erie on Opening Day. His ceiling isn't quite what it once was, but he could still carve out a big league career as a fifth starter that induces groundballs and eats some innings.

Putkonen will be 25-years old for nearly the entire 2011 season, and unfortunately, that means his window to get a chance in the big leagues may be narrowing. He's not on the 40-man roster, and he may be behind numerous other pitchers as options for the big league club should injuries strike. He will need a strong showing in double-A to keep his hopes alive.

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