Position: Right-handed Pitcher
The Tigers made Putkonen their third-round choice in the 2007 draft out of North Carolina. During the Tarheels' regular season, Putkonen managed a 7-1 record and 4.46 ERA working as the Sunday starter. After missing his true freshman season (2005) after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Putkonen came back to help the Tarheels 2006 NCAA runner-up squad 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.
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 signed in July of 2007 and made three starts for the GCL Tigers before being shutdown for the year. In his three starts, Luke tossed 8-2/3 innings giving up no walks and striking out eight hitters.
Putkonen is an imposing figure on the mound, and he uses his size to generate a fastball that sits 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 R
Putkonen has recovered well from his 2005 Tommy John surgery, and the velocity and command of his fastball have returned. Unfortunately he now faces another comeback; this time from minor shoulder surgery conducted after the conclusion of his first pro experience. Putkonen has made good strides in his comeback from this most recent surgery, and he is expected to make a full recovery.
With the shoulder procedure now behind him, Putkonen and the organization are looking towards a return to the mound in late-May or early-June of this year. If during his initials workouts he shows strong command of his stuff and good velocity, he could be pushed to help out in West Michigan throughout the summer.
The more likely scenario involves Luke working out in extended spring training until the Oneonta Tigers season opens up in mid-June. For someone of his raw ability it will be a solid test as he returns from surgery, and should provide him a spring board to move more quickly in 2009 and beyond. Putkonen's timetable to Detroit hinges entirely on the progression of his promising but inconsistent breaking pitches. With any luck, he could be knocking on the door to Detroit by sometime in 2011.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.