Mid-Season Top 40 Prospects: #3

#3. Clayton Blackburn – RHP, 20 yo, Hi-A: Blackburn is an Oklahoma product who the Giants drafted out of high school in 2011. His commitment to OU and the fact that he doesn’t possess elite velocity probably scared most teams away, and the Giants snagged him in the 16th round. The Giants offered Blackburn the money needed to break his commitment to Oklahoma, and the under-the-radar righty showed right away that he was indeed one of the top prep pitchers in his class. In 33.1 IP in the Arizona League, Blackburn logged an eye-popping 1.08 ERA to go along with 30 K and 3 BB. The next season, he was assigned to Augusta along with sandwich pick Kyle Crick. While the more well-known Crick struggled with command, Blackburn dominated competition of mostly two-and-three-year older players. As a 19 year-old, he made 22 starts, going 8-4 with a 2.54 ERA and 143 K in 131 IP. Those are outstanding numbers by themselves, but when you factor in that he only walked 18 batters, the performance becomes even more special.

Blackburn, in his second full season as a professional, is now 20 years old and one of the most coveted prospects in the Giants’ organization. He’s a big-bodied pitcher who looks bigger in person than his height and weight lead on (6’3”, 220 lb). His athleticism and velocity are his biggest knocks, but every report I’ve read lists his fastball as low 90’s that can hit 93 with sink, which is nothing to sneeze at. Where he really makes his living is with above average off-speed stuff and excellent command of the strike zone. He’s shown from his first summer with the Giants that he knows how to pitch, which is often the missing link for many hurlers who offer more powerful stuff but less control. He offers a nice four-pitch mix, and sounds like the kind of guy who can throw any pitch and any time, which is very advanced for his age.

In 16 starts at San Jose this year, Blackburn hasn’t produced at the level he did in Augusta, which would have been very difficult to replicate. He’s got a 5-4 record with a 4.35 ERA, and he’s certainly taken his lumps. However, for a young player pitching in a known hitter’s-league, his H/9 and K/9 are nearly identical to what they were in 2012. Even his BB/9 of 2.6 (up from 1.2 a year ago) is still very good. Overall, I would think the Giants have to be pleased with how he’s handled himself this season. All players will struggle eventually (and need to), but the fact that Blackburn has maintained his great peripheral numbers (H, K, BB) says a lot about his determination. Whether the Giants decide to promote him to AA next season or start him back in San Jose for the first part of the year, his prospect star remains very bright.

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