Luke Putkonen's gradual climb through the ranks of professional baseball got a big boost on Thursday.
The former standout has been called up by the Detroit Tigers, and he could make his major league debut this weekend against the New York Yankees.
In the Bronx. Yes, that one.
“I texted him and wished him good luck,” Walton coach Shane Amos told The Marietta Daily Journal. “I told him we were proud of him down here.”
Putkonen is a 6-foot-6 righthander who had been pitching for the Tigers' Class AAA affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens. He'll be part of the Tigers' bullpen for now.
He led Walton to the Class 5AAAAA championship in 2004 and earned a scholarship to the University of North Carolina, which reached the College World Series while he was there.
Putkonen also played for the Yankees of the revered East Cobb Baseball program that produced current Atlanta Braves stars Brian McCann and Jason Heyward, as well as former Brave Jeff Francoeur.
But an arm injury in college that prompted the dreaded "Tommy John" surgery initially dimmed Putkonen's professional prospects, although he was drafted by the Tigers in the 4th round of the 2007 MLB amateur draft.
Putkonen was 9-7 for the Tigers' farm club in Lakeland in 2010, but was a combined 3-13 for Lakeland and Erie last season. In six appearances for Toledo in 2012, Putkonen was 1-0 with 10 strikeouts and a 1.38 ERA.
Tigers' manager Jim Leyland told The Detroit News that Putkonen's call-up was due to a strong spring training and his form thus far.
"He made a good impression on us. Power arm, power stuff. Nobody knows how they're going to react when they get up here, but he's done well in Toledo."