Hey folks, sorry for the short hiatus, the holiday rush got to be a bit much for me, so I had to take a bit of a break for the writing stuff. Not to worry, I'm back now, and we can resume the Top 50 Countdown. So, without further ado:
No. 28: Luke Putkonen, RHP
We've all seen and probably settled on an opinion of Putkonen by now, and chances are, your opinion of him is not of the positive variety. Our own Jordan Gorosh has definitely not kept his negative feelings regarding Putkonen quiet, which speaks to the true variance that is ranking prospects. I happen to see something more than a batting practice guy in Putkonen, hence his appearance on this countdown. He was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2007 draft out of North Carolina, where he was primarily a starter for the Tar Heels. From 2007 through 2010, Putkonen slowly climbed through the Tigers system, still exclusively pitching as a starter, and with pretty nice results, usually posting an ERA of just over 3, with a WHIP around 1.25 or so, and a 6+ K/9. 2011 marked Putkonen's first real trouble season, where he saw all of his numbers worsen significantly, and also saw the Tigers decide to try Putkonen as a reliever, a position switch that has stuck. He spent 2012 mostly with Class Triple A-Toledo, but we saw him for 16 innings with the Tigers as well, where he had middling results, to put it mildly.
I wrote up a more comprehensive scouting report on Putkonen several months ago, which can be found here, at the old TPR Wordpress site. To summarize, Putkonen has become a 2 pitch guy as a reliever, featuring a fastball and a curveball. His fastball sits in the 94-96 range, touching 97-98 in spurts, with marginal sink and arm side run, making it a more effective pitch to right handed hitters. When he was a starter, he was more of a sinkerball guy, sitting in the low 90's but with heavy sink. The reason his profile has expanded as a reliever is because of the significant uptick on his fastball velocity, something I think could also happen with Rick Porcello, should the Tigers ever decide to make him a reliever. Regardless, when Putkonen is able to command his fastball, it's an effective pitch, as it can elicit groundballs when thrown down in the zone, and can be thrown right by hitters when up in the zone. Putkonen's other pitch is his curveball, which I think actually shows nice potential. It's a harder curveball, sitting in the low 80's, and has nice, tight spin and good downward break to it. Command is the issue here, as he leaves too many of the pitches up in the zone, which makes him susceptible to hitters of all skill sets. When Putkonen manages to bury the curve down and out of the zone, it shows plus potential and is a legitimate swing and miss pitch. I have trouble putting a 60 grade on it, however, because of the lack of consistency to it.
Putkonen has a 7th inning ceiling for me, which is, understandably, much more of a profile than I have seen others put on Putkonen. I think that as he further adjusts to being a reliever, meaning he can air out his fastball while still maintaining command, he becomes a very nice bullpen piece to have, and one that I think could be valuable to the Tigers. Even if he doesn't reach his ceiling, I think he could settle in nicely as a 1-2 innings middle reliever, who can get strikeouts, and in general, just give a team solid innings.