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Happy as a Frog: TCU's Purke is armed and ready

Matt Purke was happy at TCU, even before he went 16-0 as a freshman and made it to the College World Series.

"I told coach (Jim Schlossnagle) before we started conference and regionals that I was completely content with my decision being at this place," said Purke, a slender bespectacled left-hander who was a first-round draft pick two summers ago.

"Even if we hadn't had that success last year, I still would be feeling the same way I do right now. But it certainly helps."

The Texas Rangers, then still more than a year from becoming AL champions while going through bankruptcy proceedings and a sale, couldn't complete a deal before Purke enrolled at TCU.

"After everything happened, I'd say probably that night or the next day .... from that point on I was all about TCU," Purke said. "Everyone thought that thing would linger with me. But, in all honesty, I was done with it and as soon as I got to campus. I had no ideas or thoughts about anything else other than playing TCU baseball."

Purke led the nation in victories and capped his season winning both his starts in the College World Series, the Frogs' first trip to Omaha.

The lefty with a deceptive three-quarters delivery now gets one more season with the Frogs before he is eligible to be drafted again. Purke was selected 14th the last time. This time, he certainly could go higher and likely will turn pro. Before that, there could be one more special season for Purke and the Frogs.

Two other top starters are back — right-handers Steven Maxwell (11-2, 2.70) and Kyle Winkler (12-3, 3.39) — and the Frogs were ranked No. 1 in the preseason Collegiate Baseball poll. Purke is to start the season opener Friday night at home against Kansas.

"He really handled the unrealistic expectations that were placed on him, of being a first-rounder that came to school," Schlossnagle said. "I want him to be a prima donna between the lines, but off the field, he's never been anything but a team guy. There's zero ego in there. A lot of confidence, but zero ego."

Purke's 3.02 ERA was second best among NCAA starters, and he had 142 strikeouts and 34 walks in 116 1-3 innings. Opponents hit .212 against him in a season that exceeded even his own expectations.

"Oh, yeah, I didn't put that one together," Purke said. "Certainly when I got into it, I was just going to go with it."

Purke signed a national letter of intent with TCU in the fall of 2008, before his senior season at Klein High School near Houston. He was already one of the nation's top prospects and was Baseball America's high school pitcher of the year as a junior.

Even though he is only a sophomore, Purke is already eligible for the draft again because his 21st birthday (July 17) is within 45 days of the draft that begins June 6.

"Certainly the goal is to have him have another great season, for him to stay healthy and for us to have a great year," Schlossnagle said. "If all those things happen and he stays healthy, then he's certainly going to be one of the top picks in the draft. ... Stay healthy and stay true to who he is, he'll be a major league player for a long time."

Purke's unusual delivery lends to a fastball that reaches the mid-90s with a sinking movement and good breaking pitches.

"He's atypical. The hitters don't see other pitchers that are similar," Baylor coach Steve Smith said. "His delivery's unique. It's not anything that would make anybody feel comfortable. ... He's got so many moving parts that (batters) just don't feel comfortable."

Purke feels like he was "certainly ready as an 18-year-old" to go pro, but being at TCU has helped him grow as a pitcher and a person.

"This is stuff that you can't learn until you're out there," Purke said. "That's a lot of experience that I got in one compact season."

Purke got the chance to live on his own, making that adjustment in college rather than while riding buses between small towns playing in the minor leagues. On the field, he learned how to manage runners and pickoff plays, the peripheral things outside of just throwing the ball past hitters.

"I thought he was mature beyond his years last year, and he's certainly bypassed that," Schlossnagle said.

"It's not just throwing the ball as hard as you can toward home plate and having a great breaking ball," the coach said. "That's a great way to start it, but it's so much more than that. Now he's been though that for a year and certainly had success at the absolute highest level you can have, in Omaha and a Super Regional in a hostile environment."

This season, Purke wants to cut down on walks (he had only 1.7 per game), lower his ERA and get quicker outs to go deeper into games. He had only one complete game.

What about another undefeated season?

"I totally expect myself to do as good or even better than last year," Purke said. "Realistically, I don't live in a fantasy world, but my goal is to put myself in the best position to win every time I pitch."

Like he has every time so far for the Frogs.