Matt Purke, Anthony Rendon Optioned, Seven Others Cut From Big League Squad

The Nationals decided this afternoon to give two of their top prospects in big league camp a chance to get acclimated with the team’s minor league program as they optioned starting pitcher Matt Purke and infielder Anthony Rendon. The team also removed seven other players from their spring roster, including Corey Brown, Jarrett Hoffpauir, and Sandy Leon.

Bryce Harper, Washington’s overall top prospect, will continue to stay with the team as he works to come back from a lower leg injury.

Purke, the Nats’ third round draft pick in 2011, ended his first spring stint on a high note, earning the victory in today’s 8-3 decision over the St. Louis Cardinals. The 21-year-old allowed just one hit in 1.1 innings of work against the defending World Champions. In total Purke, a rising star out of Texas Christian University, gave up five hits and one earned run in 3.1 innings pitched with Washington this spring.

All reports indicate that the left-hander looked to be nearly fully recovered from an arm issue that watered down his draft stock last season. Many initially felt after his dominant freshman performance in 2010 that Purke would be a lock to be selected in the first round in 2011, but a lingering arm injury sapped his velocity. The Nats took a chance on his tremendous upside when they drafted him in the third round, hoping that Purke would look more like the hurler who went 16-0 with a 3.02 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 2010, than the shell of his former self that only mustered 52.2 innings pitched in 2011.

Rendon, on the other hand, did not get a chance to play today in his last stint with the big league team, but did get a solid eight game look at various different positions across the infield this spring. The numbers don’t tell the story for Rendon (.231/.286/.462 in 13 at bats), who managed to impress the team’s front office with not only his quick bat and polished skills but also his high level of poise. He simply looked comfortable being in big-league camp, and seemed perfectly in place against big-league pitchers.

Both Rendon and Purke were re-assigned to Single-A Potomac where they will begin the 2012 season. From there, their paths to the majors will begin to diverge. Nats GM Mike Rizzo is likely to be very patient and cautious with Purke. His upside projects him to be a No. 1 or No. 2 at the major league level if everything goes right, but he needs to fully recover and learn how to pitch against professional hitting before Rizzo will be willing to throw him into the mix in Washington. Look for him to get at least four or five starts at each level before reaching Triple-A. 

Rendon, on the other hand, is quite possibly the most talented and polished hitter selected by any team in the 2011 draft. We will likely see a path very similar to the one that Stephen Strasburg took in 2010 for Rendon, one that will see him make brief stops and test him at all levels. If everything goes well for Rendon, he will make his way to Triple-A by late May, and be knocking on the door to Washington by July.