Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Despite his collegiate season still continuing, the Tigers drafted Putkonen in the 3rd round of this year's draft out of North Carolina. Luke enters the NCAA Super Regional against South Carolina with a 7-1 record for the Tarheels, and a 4.46 ERA. Working as the Sunday starter for the ‘Heels, Luke has managed some stretches of dominance in ACC play, and could help UNC make a return trip to Omaha to close out this season.
After missing his true freshman season (2005) after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Putkonen came back to help the Tarheels 2006 NCAA runner-up squad (led by Tiger draft pick Andrew Miller) by posting a 6-0 record and 3.08 ERA in 61.1 innings. In his first career start, Luke took a no-hitter into the sixth against Coastal Carolina last season.
Prior to joining North Carolina, Putkonen was a standout for Walton High School in Marietta, GA. Working as a pitcher during his junior and senior seasons and in the outfield for his entire prep career, he was invited to participate in the 2004 All-American Baseball Game, and was named team captain of his team as a senior. In addition, Putkonen played for the WWBA World Champion East Cobb Astros in 2003, which helped further enhance his stature as a top national prospect.
Putkonen is an imposing figure on the mound, and he uses his size to generate a fastball that site in the 90-92 range and has touched 94 mph in the past. He gets good downward plane on his heater, and can consistently work low in the zone to both sides of the plate. He can throw plenty of strikes with his fastball, but must work to elevate the pitch more to change the hitter's eye level.
Despite the prominence of his fastball, Luke's secondary offerings lag significantly behind. His curveball has shown plus-potential on occasion, but he must gain consistency with the pitch. At times, his curve has good downward bite that can eat hitters up when worked low in the zone. His change-up and slider are below average pitches that will require significant work as a pro. He struggles to command any of his secondary pitches, but that is expected to improve as he gains consistency and feel with them.
Luke can get frustrated on the mound, losing his composure and his effectiveness. He has worked diligently to control his emotions, but it is still a work in progress. He has the raw arm strength to contribute at the Major League level, but he needs substantial refinement. He is so raw, it is difficult to project what future role he could fill. With increased consistency on his curveball, Putkonen would probably profile as a dominant late inning reliever. If one of the slider or change-up progresses, his ceiling could progress to that of a mid-rotation starter.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG NCAA
Putkonen has recovered well from his 2005 Tommy John surgery, and the velocity and command of his fastball have returned. He has worked without pain for two years, and appears to be past any lingering effects from the procedure.
As a draft-eligible sophomore, Putkonen could opt to head back to school for his third year in an attempt to improve his draft stock. However, it is unlikely the Tigers would have selected him this high if they didn't think they could sign him. Should he sign, expect Luke to be pushed to Oneonta right off the bat, where he will certainly be forced to work hard and develop quickly. He has the raw stuff to become an intriguing pitching prospect, but he's going to require some time.
Luke is a huge project for the Tigers minor league staff, but there is a general sense that they can work with him and get him past his inexperience. He has only been pitching since 2003, and could make enormous strides quickly if things click with him. If the Tigers (and fans) are patient with him, Putkonen could reward the organization in a few years.
Mark Anderson covers the Tigers' minor league system and all of minor league baseball for TigsTown.com. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.