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Purging Purcey, the Passing of a Prospect

April 13, 2011

Friends, fans, fickle fantasy players. We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of a young man’s dreams. A young man who, not too long ago was both dreamer and dreamed, widely viewed as one of the top prospects of his long-nurturing club. Out of options, the Toronto Blue Jays have designated David Purcey for assignment, giving them ten days in which to either work out a trade with another organization, or expose him to waivers, after which, if he passes through unclaimed, he can be either released outright, or demoted to the minor leagues.

Three short years ago, Baseball America ranked Purcey as the 9th best prospect in the Jays’ system, maintaining that slot for the second year in a row. The man currently slated to replace him in the lineup, Brad Mills, only ranked 20th. Roster mainstay Marc Rzepcynski was 21st. In fact, a look through that top-30 serves as a reminder that all glittering prospects do not produce gold. Not as strong then as they are now, Baseball America ranked the Jays’ organization a mere 25th out of 30 MLB teams. Ahead of Purcey that year were current luminaries Travis Snider, Brett Cecil, J.P. Arencibia and Ricky Romero. Purcey was also bested by other failures to launch (some of whom make Purcey glow in comparison) including Kevin Ahrens, Justin Jackson and Curtis Thigpen. The jury is still out (way out) on John Tolisano. Purcey was also given the organization’s top grade for his fastball. He also had a curveball that was described as “biting” and as a “plus pitch” as well as a below-average change-up.

Drafted in the 1st round of the 2004 draft, taken with the 16th overall selection, Purcey’s current status can again be given greater context in that his career achievements have far outshined those of nearly everyone else taken later in that round, with the exception of Phil Hughes. Arguments could also be formed for Josh Fields (3B), Glen Perkins and Blake DeWitt. In his prospect bio of 2008, BA lauded Purcey for the life in his fastball, particularly down in the zone, and lamented his lack of command, brought on by inconsistent mechanics. To that point in his professional career, Purcey had yet to pitch in the Majors. He had walked 180 minor league batters in 351 innings, while striking out 355. The strikeouts were nice, but a ratio of 2:1 with his walks in tow was less impressive. Even at that stage, not having graduated from AA, there was talk of converting Purcey to the bullpen.

Later that season, his first as a member of the 40-man roster (1 option burned), Purcey made his Major League debut. He made his first start as an early season replacement, making the start for the home team on a Friday night in mid-April against the visiting Detroit Tigers. In a sign of things to come, Purcey lasted only 4.3 innings, allowing only two hits, but walking seven, getting an early shower and allowing a stretched bullpen to blow the game wide open in an eventual 8-4 loss. His rookie season was not all bad though, with a stellar performance in Tampa that August getting Purcey his first (and thus far only) complete game, holding the Rays to 1 run over 8 innings, striking out 11 without issuing a single free pass. Unfortunately, the single run, a homer by Carlos Pena, was enough to give the Rays the margin of victory. He ended his first season consistent with his minor league performance, walking a batter for every two that he struck out.

Purcey failed to hold a spot in the Blue Jays’ starting rotation in 2009, spending the majority of his season in the hitter’s haven known as Las Vegas (option 2 burned). He actually started the year in the Blue Jay rotation, but an ERA of 7.01 over 5 starts can cause a man his job. Not the first pitcher whose numbers suffered from the desert climate, Purcey put together his worst professional season, walking 78 in just under 140 innings, striking out 109. The sole ray of hope was a stable groundball rate, in the high 40’s, minimizing the damage he could allow through home runs.  He returned to pitch for the Jays in September, providing two good starts, one mediocre and one (the grand finale) that was downright poor, surrendering 7 runs in 3.2 innings in Baltimore.

Enter 2010. The man who drafted him, J.P. Ricciardi was gone. Alex Anthopoulos, while already a scouting coordinator when Purcey was drafted, was not fully responsible for the $1.6 million bonus lavished in the Oklahoma alumni in 2004. Purcey was shifted to the bullpen. During spring training of that year, Purcey made 5 appearances, pitching over 7 innings. He walked only 3, but proved rather hittable, allowing 10 hits against, including 2 home runs. While hits allowed are not the best barometer with which to judge a top hurler, they were another damning data point in the dossier of a fading prospect. He sent back to Vegas (burning option number 3) to work on his craft in his new role. Things went well for Purcey, as he struck out 23 over 18.2 innings before the end of May. He walked more than his fair share (15), but he now seemed like someone who could provide value at the big league level. He spent the rest of the year in the Blue Jays’ bullpen, again maintaining a K/BB rate around 2:1, while now proving less hittable than ever before. Seven of the 14 earned runs he surrendered came in 2 games. Things were looking up.

Purcey came to camp this year with a bullpen job as a lefty practically sewn up, especially as he was now out of options. In a recent Baseball America article about other pitchers coming into this season without  minor league options remaining, Matt Eddy wrote that “As a rule, the best big league pitchers establish themselves long before they run out of minor league options. So what we have … are a collection of No. 4 starters and low-leverage relievers.” A suitable description for Purcey. He pitched in 10 games during the Spring season, and while his superficial numbers were solid (2-1, 3.86 ERA), that he walked 10 batters while striking out only 9 had to be at least somewhat disconcerting.

Purcey first came into action on April 5, pitching the 7th inning against the Athletics. Facing three right-handed batters, he got Conor Jackson to ground out and then struck out both Josh Willingham and Mark Ellis. Of note, Purcey threw 19 pitches, including 1 change-up, 3 sliders and 15 fastballs. The one change-up was fouled off by Ellis and all three sliders missed the strike zone. Purcey pitched again two days later, pitching in the 9th inning with the Jays trailing the Athletics by a single run. Throwing only fastballs at Hideki Matsui, he gave up a single. Four more fastballs allowed him to strike out catcher Kurt Suzuki. He was then replaced by Casey Janssen. Purcey was back the next night, opening up the home half of the 8th inning with a one run lead against the Angels and Bobby Abreu. Purcey threw 6 pitches, all fastballs. Abreu walked. Purcey left.

This past Sunday, Purcey got more work in Los Anaheim. He threw 16 pitches in the 8th inning, 15 fastballs and one change-up. Only 6 were strikes. He walked 2 batters, elicited 1 infield pop-up and one ground out. While he had yet to surrender a run, earned or unearned, no could describe his pitching as effective. Purcey was down to one pitch, having traded in a curveball for a slider he (or his catchers) did not have faith in, while his change-up up was still only a show-me pitch. What remained, a fastball thrown between 92-94 MPH was inconsistent, just as often missing the strike zone as hitting his spot. Finally, on Monday, his erratic throwing signalled an end to his utility and an end to his spot on the roster. With no options remaining, we now bid farewell to David Purcey. Josh Roenicke should be so lucky.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2011 4:55 pm

    May the prospect rest in peace.

  2. Rich permalink
    April 13, 2011 5:55 pm

    Very good post. I think Purcey’s status as a first-round pick probably let him hold on a little longer than he otherwise deserved, even despite his modest success last year. In his entire pro career he has never really shown improved command for any sustained period of time and at this stage it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever be a reliable big-league pitcher.

    Given his first-round pedigree, size, velo, and lefthandedness, I’m sure several other teams will take a flier on him over the next few years but I doubt the results will look much different.

    • April 13, 2011 7:20 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Rich. I agree that Purcey will get a few more chances, but without substantially improving his fastball command, it won’t amount to much. n many cases where a former top prospect is let go, we often see that the GM/Scouting Director who signed him has also moved on, such as was the case with Purcey. I’d be curious to look into the case of Bret DeVall, formerly with the Braves. A supplemental 1st rounder in 2008 under 1st year GM Frank Wren, he was let go before the minor league season started this year. He had some health issues, but those rarely cause bonus babies to be dropped at so young an age.
      BTW – there have already been rumours connecting Purcey to Houston and NYM (who now employee JP Ricciardi).

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  1. Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – September 5, 2011 « section203

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