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. Prior to what was expected to be a campaign worth following in his first pro season, Putkonen was sidelined by a bum shoulder that required minor surgery. He struggled to return to the mound, and only made a few appearances for Oneonta in 2008.
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. There are some questions about how his fastball velocity will react after surgery, but it was showing signs of returning prior to being shut down last summer.
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 gets healthy and 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 SS-A
The 2008 shoulder surgery was the second time Putkonen has faced the operating table, having undergone Tommy John surgery in 2005. His velocity had returned from that surgery, and he was progressing nicely. His spring performance will bear watching to see how his shoulder has recovered. Luke was shut down after experiencing extended soreness in his shoulder, but all indications were that he would be healthy for 2009.
Luke will be one to watch in spring training, as his potential is immense, but there are lingering injury and consistency concerns. The timing of his 2008 shoulder injury couldn't have been worse for a pitcher in dire need of innings and game experience to advance his considerable talent.
Putkonen will compete for a job in either the West Michigan or Lakeland rotations to start the 2009 season, though he could see a quick move to the bullpen if the Tigers believe he can move quickly. Though only his second full season, 2009 will be a crossroads for Luke, and he will have to pitch well to remain on the prospect radar.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.