2011 MLB Draft – Rounds 3-5 wrap: Nationals gamble on Matt Purke


Matt Purke, who was drafted 14th overall by the Rangers coming out of high school in 2009, went to the Nationals with the No. 96 pick as a draft-eligible sophomore today.  It was a big tumble for the left-hander, who was a candidate to go first overall before a rough season.

Purke agreed to a $6 million deal with the Rangers in 2009, only to have it vetoed by the commisioner’s office because of the team’s dire financial situation before it was sold.  At TCU, he went 16-0 with a 3.02 ERA as a freshman, striking out 142 batters in 116 1/3 innings.  However, he lost his best fastball this year before missing time with arm problems.

Purke looks like a true wild card now.  If his arm is sound, he’d probably be better off returning to TCU for his junior season, because he could definitely reemerge as a top-five pick next year.  If, on the other hand, he is worried about his arm, then he might want to take what money he can get while it’s still out there.  The suspicion, though, is that he’s going back to school.

Other thoughts:

– The Pirates made power bat Alex Dickerson the first pick of round three and announced him as a first baseman.  He was actually an outfielder at Indiana, but the move appeared inevitable.  Of course, Pedro Alvarez seems destined for first himself, but whether there will be a role for Dickerson can be worried about at a later date.

– Texas A&M right-hander John Stilson went to the Blue Jays at No. 108.  He was a likely first-rounder before his season ended due to a torn labrum.

– The Red Sox went for their second catcher of the draft when they picked Jordan Weems at No. 111.  He’s the younger brother of former Yankees and current Reds farmhand Chase Weems. In round four, they went with Cal State Fullerton’s Noe Ramirez, who has a below average fastball but terrific college results.

– The Giants selected USC’s Ricky Oropesa at No. 116 and announced him as a first baseman.  He was more highly regarded after hitting 20 homers as a sophomore.  This year, he slipped all of the way to seven.  His slugging percentage went from .578 as a freshman to .711 as a sophomore to .481 this year.

– As mentioned in that wrap, the Red Sox went into Yankees territory to grab their round two selection, Williams Jerez.  In round three, the Yankees came back and picked a New Hampshire right-hander named Jordan Cote with the 118th pick.  As a cold-weather player, he’s quite raw, but ESPN’s Keith Law liked him enough to rank him 85th in his top 100.

– Round 4 belonged to the Kyles. Kyle Simon (No. 125 to BAL), Kyle Smith (No. 126 to KC), Kylin Turnbull (No. 127 to WAS), Kyle McMillen (No. 141 to CWS) and Kyle McMyne (No. 145 to CIN) all went in a span of 21 picks.

– The Twins picked late-bloomer Matt Summers at No. 148.  He had an 8.51 ERA in four starts and 17 relief appearances for UC Irvine last year before becoming the Big West Pitcher of the Year this season.  If his velocity spike is for real, he could be a great find.

– Georgia Tech’s Matt Skole went to the Nationals at No. 157.  He hit 47 homers over the last three seasons, but he was arrested in February for DUI and suspended twice by Tech for violating team rules.  Like Anthony Rendon, he was announced by the team as a third baseman. He’ll probably stay there for now.

Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 billion in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.