Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Drafted in the third round out of North Carolina in 2007, Putkonen 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.
Shoulder trouble held Putkonen back in extended spring training in 2008, and he was then assigned to short-season 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.
The Tigers kept Putkonen moving up the ladder in 2010, sending him to the Florida State League to pitch for the Flying Tigers. He 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.
In 2011, Putkonen split his time between High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie. With Lakeland he split his time between the rotation and the bullpen, making eight starts and seven relief appearances. He totaled a 5.54 ERA in 65 innings in the FSL, allowing 77 hits and striking out 52 batters.
He made eleven starts with Erie throughout the year, getting touched up for a 7.57 ERA after allowing 68 hits – including eight home runs – in just 52 1/3 innings. His strikeout rate plummeted in Double-A as he posted only 23 whiffs to 22 walks.
So far this year, Putkonen has worked exclusively in relief for Triple-A Toledo, posting a 1.38 ERA in six appearances. He has allowed only nine hits in 13 innings with five walks and ten punch outs.
Putkonen has reinvented himself as a reliever, elevating his stock and putting himself back on the prospect map. He is an imposing presence on the mound with exceptional size and great angle to the plate.
As a starter, he consistently showed a heavy, sinking fastball that worked consistently from 90-92 mph for much of his career, and would occasionally touch higher than that. He lacked command and often struggled with pacing himself throughout starts.
As a reliever, his effort-filled delivery seems to work better and he has less to worry about in general. He has taken well to airing it out for three to four batters at a time and his fastball has ticked up to 95-96 mph consistently, while still maintaining its heaviness.
Putkonen's curveball has also come to life out of the bullpen. He has the liberty of letting it fly and throwing it harder, giving it more consistent tight spin and sharp downward action. He has more potential to miss bats with his present breaking ball than he did as a starter.
While Putkonen tried to develop a change-up as a starter, that pitch has largely been scrapped as a reliever. He will occasionally work on it in side sessions and some scouts report having spotted a couple in outings this spring.
Command and control have never been a huge part of Putkonen's game, but he is throwing enough strikes to be effective and work ahead of hitters. If he continues to adapt to his new role, he could develop fringy command that could help his stuff play up even more.
As a reliever, Putkonen has the potential to develop into a setup option that can induce ground balls and miss bats. He still needs to develop and adapt to the role, but he has shown the signs that he could be a quality big leaguer out of the bullpen.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP WHIP AAA
Putkonen has undergone both Tommy John surgery and a minor shoulder procedure in his career. He has not had any problems over the last three years, but memories of those arm troubles are still present. He will have to be watched to see how he handles the extra effort out of the bullpen and the potential to work on back-to-back days.
There were some within the Tigers organization that were pushing for Putkonen to make the Opening Day roster in Detroit. He showed impressive raw stuff and quickly took to his new role during spring training.
He has a chance to impress as the Tigers pitching staff remains in flux, and if he pitches well out of the gate he could be a contributor in the big leagues all season. Long term, he will likely fill a sixth/seventh inning role for the time being, but has the potential to be a setup option long term.
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