I posted something on twitter last night saying that Putkonen getting his first MLB save may be a foreshadowing of things to come, simply because I liked his profile as a potential late innings reliever. You’d have thought that I praised Satan or said that Miguel Cabrera was awful, based upon the amount of backlash I received.
I’m rather new to this whole scouting/prospecting thing, but I’ve never been someone to backpedal away from my beliefs if the reception of those beliefs isn’t a positive one. So, I’ve assumed that I’ll take my lumps when it comes to my opinions on players, and I figured that I would write an article explaining my opinion of Putkonen.
Keep in mind, I did say that Putkonen’s success hinges upon his developing consistent command of both his fastball and curveball, but that more or less goes without saying to anyone that pays any attention to the Tigers.
Here we go:
Putkonen is a big dude with the prototypical power pitcher’s frame, standing 6’6″ and weighing about 210-215 lbs. He gets a very good downward angle with his slot release, and I’m a fan of the leg drive he is able to generate, especially when throwing from the stretch. Putkonen was originally a starter in the Tigers system, where he was more of your typical sinkerball type pitcher, sitting 90-92 on his fastball with solid sink/heaviness, and a fringy curveball/changeup combination. He has some history of injuries which influenced his move to the bullpen, where he has reinvented himself as a pitcher.
Putkonen now sits comfortably at 95-96 with the ability to reach back and get 98 on occasion. His ball still has some heaviness to it, but not as significant as when he was 91-92, but that’s to be expected. When he throws to the arm side, there is marginal arm-side run on the pitch, which runs in on the right handed batters. When he throws to the glove-side, the pitch straightens out without much movement, but can still be effective with command. Putkonen’s biggest issue this season has been leaving his fastball up in the zone. In the major leagues, even if you throw hard, with no command its going to get hit (Verlander in the All-Star Game).
Putkonen’s curve has become a legitimate swing and miss pitch since his move to the bullpen. It has sharp break, tight spin, and legitimate downward action to it, and it’s actually pretty hard at 81-82 MPH. Again, command is the issue here, with too many of these curveballs being left up in the zone. Verlander can occasionally get away with hanging a curve, but Luke Putkonen cannot. He needs to develop the command to throw the pitch not only for strikes, but also burying it down and away to right handed hitters, resulting in swings and misses.
Putkonen had a changeup when he was a starter that was never really graded as better than fringy, but he seemingly has eliminated it from his repertoire as a reliever. At least, I haven’t noticed him throwing it. As a starter it’s important to have 3 pitches, even if one of them is merely a show-me pitch (Bonderman!!!!!), but as a reliever, you can get away with 2 pitches, especially if both of them are effective (as Putkonen’s can be)
I see Putkonen as having a 7th-8th inning set up man ceiling. This is, of course, dependent upon him developing at least average command of both his fastball and curveball. He has the potential to be a good late innings reliever that can not only get groundballs, but also miss bats. His floor is the up and down long reliever that we saw this season. Likelihood to reach ceiling is probably pretty low, but the fact that we’ve already seen Putkonen’s floor is a good indication that as he develops more as a reliever, he’ll improve. Right now, I’d project him to get one of the Tigers bullpen spots in 2013, probably in the Luis Marte/Colin Balester long relief/mop up role, with the obvious potential for more.