Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Putkonen is now a three-year veteran of the Tigers system, after being selected in the third round of the 2007 draft. Putkonen signed despite having strong leverage to return to school, receiving a $236,000 signing bonus that kept him from heading back for his red-shirt junior season.
After signing, Putkonen made just three appearances for the GCL Tigers, tossing 8 2/3 innings with no walks and nine strikeouts; though he did give up four earned runs on eight hits for a 4.15 ERA.
Putkonen entered the next season looking to build on his considerable potential, but minor shoulder surgery left him seeing action in just six games (all starts) with Oneonta in the New York-Penn League. Luke sported a 3.65 ERA over those starts, giving up a hit per inning, and strike out just over six per nine innings.
After getting back to full strength, Putkonen spent the entire 2009 season with West Michigan, where he logged 28 starts and even flipped one complete game shutout. His 149 1/3 innings were far and away a career high. Luke finished with a strong 3.13 ERA that was backed up with a 2.45 strikeout to walk ratio.
Early in the 2009 season, reports were quite varied on Putkonen, but post-season calls were quite consistent. His fastball sat at 92-93 for much of the season, and regularly touched 94 throughout most of his starts. There isn't a ton of life on his fastball, but he does have some sinking movement on most days. He has an ability to throw strikes, but lacks the ability to locate consistently.
Putkonen has three distinct secondary pitches, including a curveball, slider, and change-up. His curveball is a potential plus pitch that sits in the mid- to upper-70s and he is comfortable using it in any count.
His slider is a passable pitch, but not something he uses consistently, and not something he appears willing to rely on in critical situations. His change-up is an average pitch and he maintains his arm speed well. He falls victim to over-throwing his change-up at times, but that can be corrected with additional experience.
Putkonen has a great pitchers frame and a calm demeanor on the mound. His spotty injury history is of significant concern, and ultimately limits his projection somewhat. His ceiling is that of a number three starter, but if he falls short of that, he could be a quality back-end guy that eats some innings when healthy.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG A
Putkonen had Tommy John surgery during his time at North Carolina, and that set back his development. Just as he was beginning to get back on track, his shoulder problems reared their head as a pro. His durable 2009 season was encouraging, but it does not eliminate the concerns over his long term durability.
Putkonen is a lock to move up to Lakeland to start the 2010 season, but he also enters camp with an excellent chance to impress and possibly be challenged with an assignment to Double-A Erie right out of the gate. Either way, as long as he stays healthy this season, he should see Double-A at some point.
Putkonen gets lost in the pile of starting pitching prospects in the Tigers system, largely because he doesn't have that one standout tool that many of the Tigers prospects possess. Despite that, he still has a chance to be a quality big league arm, and he should be watched closely in 2010, as he could be poised for a bit of a coming out party.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.