Tigers Prospect Profile #25: Luke Putkonen

After six years of bouncing around the minor leagues, Luke Putkonen arrived for 2012 spring training with a purpose, and within months earned a big league call-up. His results for the big league club were a mixed bag; where does he need to improve to make himself a fixture in Detroit?

Luke Putkonen
Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Height: 6-6
Weight: 210
Born: 5/10/1986
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Acquired: 2007 MLB Draft, 3rd Round
Ranking History: #33 (2007), #35 (2008), #13 (2009), #38 (2010), #112 (2011)

Background
Six years after being picked in the third round by the Tigers, Putkonen finally reached the Major Leagues, appearing in 12 games out of the bullpen with a 3.94 ERA.

Putkonen's road through the minor leagues has been a circuitous path full of injury and disappointing seasons. After a brief debut in 2007, Putkonen barely touched the mound in 2008 because of a shoulder injury.

He reached full-season ball in 2009, posting a 3.13 ERA in 28 starts, allowing roughly a hit per inning and striking out 115 batters in 149 1/3 innings. He posted similar numbers after a promotion to High-A in 2010, finishing with a 3.18 ERA in 152 2/3 innings while allowing 144 hits and fanning 87 batters.

In 2011, Putkonen struggled with a 6.44 ERA split between High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie. He allowed a whopping 145 hits in just 117 1/3 while walking 40 batters and striking out only 75. He entered spring training in 2012 on the bubble and quickly cemented himself as a player to watch thanks to a strong move to the bullpen. Aside from his big-league debut, Putkonen notched a 4.92 ERA in 56 2/3 innings at Triple-A.

Scouting Report
Putkonen's profile perked up with a move to the bullpen and he suddenly looked like a potential big-league contributor once again. His report always starts with his excellent size, long limbs and the good angle on his pitches.

When working as a starter, Putkonen's fastball sat in the 90-91 mph range with good sink, allowing him to induce ground balls when he works low in the strike zone. He has a propensity to work up in the zone too much and got hit hard when he didn't have his best velocity.

As a reliever, Putkonen's fastball spiked into the 93-94 mph range and reached 96 regularly. The short bursts seemed to smooth out his mechanics and allow his fastball to play at a level not seen since his time at North Carolina. Putkonen lost some of the sink on his heater with the elevated velocity, but there was still enough there to prevent hitters from barreling him up.

Putkonen has played with both a slider and curveball in the past and while the slider played better as a starter, his curveball has become an above-average pitch that he can rely on out of the bullpen. He still gets around the curve a little too much at times, causing the pitch to lose bite and effectiveness.

When working as a starter, Putkonen tried to mix in a change-up but never gained the feel necessary for the pitch to become a reliable offering. The change-up has largely been scrapped in a relief role but could be resurrected if he is asked to work through a lineup multiple times.

While Putkonen has resurrected his career with a move to the bullpen, he doesn't have closer-level ceiling. Neither his fastball nor curveball have true swing-and-miss potential, pushing him toward a seventh inning projection.

Performance

Level

Team

W-L

ERA

G

GS

SV

SO

BB

IP

BAA

AAA

Toledo

3-3

4.92

24

2

0

46

20

56.2

.304

ML

Detroit

0-2

3.94

12

0

1

10

8

16.0

.302


Health Record
Putkonen has had a litany of injuries throughout his career. The issues started when he required Tommy John surgery in college and continued after he was drafted and required a minor shoulder procedure in 2008. Once he got back on the mound in 2009, he seemed to be a durable starter with an ability to eat innings, and he showed an ability to pitch regularly out of the bullpen last year, laying some fears about his long-term durability to rest.

Projection
There are some within the Tigers organization that still believe Putkonen can contribute as a back-end starter in the big leagues. Others within the organization and most scouts outside the organization don't share that belief. As a soon-to-be 27-year old with a checkered performance history, Putkonen looks the part of a reliever long term. His delivery, fastball and curveball all played up in relief and he should be able to find success in the middle innings as soon as 2013.

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