Cove Chatter 100: #5

Clayton Blackburn | RHP, 21 yo, 6-3, 220 | 2011 Draft – 16 | (A+) 23 GS, 133 IP, 3.65 ERA, 7.5 H/9, 2.4 BB/9, 9.3 K/9

Blackburn has been quite impressive for the Giants since the day they drafted him. In his first 2+ professional seasons, the big righty has been durable and dominant, striking out over a batter an inning. He doesn’t have the stuff or the upside of fellow babies Kyle Crick or Adalberto Mejia – Blackburn works more in the high-80’s, low-90’s range with his fastball – but he may turn out to be the most dependable MLB pitcher of the bunch. He’s incredibly polished for a 21 year-old, throwing four pitches in any count, usually for strikes. Without the elite velocity, he’ll have to keep the ball down as he advances to the upper minors. His fastball probably won’t fool better hitters, but his curve is a thing of beauty when it’s below the knees. He’s held his own at every step so far, and I expect him to continue that trend into the future.

They said it: “Can throw four pitches for strikes. Organization wants him to work on his body, which is stocky, even if he is athletic for his size. He kind of reminds me of Rick Reuschel, body type and stuff-wise.” ~ Giants minor league pitching coordinator Bert Bradley

Blackburn Video:


(Conner Penfold/Giant Potential)


2 thoughts on “Cove Chatter 100: #5”

  1. I really like Blackburn. I think that he’s underrated by most (so I’m glad to see him #5 here), because of the disagreement about what his actual velocity is. Minor League Baseball Analyst had him at 92-94 in their 2013 book, whereas BA says he “tops out at 92 but pitches at 87-89”. And BA being the big gorilla source of prospect info, that velocity isn’t that great and I think that has weighted on most evaluations of him as a prospect.

    But BA now has him at 89-93, so even they are all around too. Maybe this will help boost him this year in some rankings. Though I would note that’s Top 100 list dropped him off the list this year after he made #95, I think, last year.

    I think the key thing to remember is the one common trait that most profiles note: his beyond his age maturity and how he is already a pitcher, not a thrower. Two pitchers that come to mind when I think of his overall makeup is Matt Cain and Big Daddy Rick Reuschel. One thing that Cain had a problem early in his career was that while he had a good fastball, he didn’t employ it as much as he should have because he was thinking more as a pitcher than a thrower. And Big Daddy had pinpoint control, he taught hitters that he throws strikes and that his most hittable pitch would be his first and it would get worse with each one after that.

    I think that Blackburn has not been throwing as hard as he is capable of. Much like Cain before, he works at a lower velocity because he is getting hitters out with that, so why change? But as he rises, he will find that he will have to hump up more to get outs, and I think, like Cain, he will do that. That change of BA’s report – from 87-89 to 89-93 – shows that might be what is happening. And if he’s capable of reaching mid-90’s, that starts to get him into more of an elite range.

    More key, I think, is his ability to control his pitch so well. I find it interesting that the Giants have been focused on finding pitchers who not only can throw strikes, but have great K/BB ratios, for a number of years now, since Bumgarner/Alderson, and just this year, Bill James came out with research that found that pitchers who can throw more strikes than other pitchers tend to have the best ERA’s, not that surprising, but he gave ranges for what is good and what is not. And ability to throw strikes is made that much better by being able to generate swing and miss strikes, and I think his above average K/9 shows that as well (and more impressively, he does this while being much younger than the league).

    He, I believe, is why a lot of farm system rankings have the Giants low. If he was ranked as high as I believe he should be (a potential #2 starter), that would give the Giants two elite prospects in Crick and Blackburn, plus a huge mass of possibles in Escobar, Mejia, Blach, Stratton, Agosta, etc. Which would bump them up much higher in rankings, because that’s a future pitching rotation, 1 to 5, right there. (and I would also argue that many are missing out on Mejia as well, which would push us up even higher).

    Given the Giants lack of need for starting pitching until the 2015-2016 timeframe, plus his youth, the Giants have no need to rush Blackburn, so he probably pitches in AA in 2014 and AAA in 2015, then gets slotted in maybe sometime in 2016, as Hudson and Vogelsong should be out of the rotation by then, maybe Lincecum too. Escobar and Crick will probably beat him to the majors, but I wouldn’t bet against him having a longer MLB career.

    1. Good stuff OGC. Personally, I think it’s ironic that Blackburn takes knocks on most of the national rankings for his “bad body” and “lack of stuff.” He lost his top 100 status essentially because of the 9 starts between April and May, when his ERA jumped above 5 and 6 (for those individual months, not collectively). It was the first time he’d struggled as a professional, and he bounced back incredibly…1.73 in August, 2.37 in September. Nobody wants to talk about that though. It’s almost like the scouts/writers were just looking for a reason to drop him, and those two months gave them the ammunition.
      He’s durable, intelligent, and probably the most polished pitcher the Giants have in the minors. He struck out 9.3 hitters per 9 in the Cal League, at 20 years old. I’ll let the rest of the baseball world worry about his velocity, and I’ll marvel at his secondary stuff and poise on the mound. I think he could easily have the longest MLB career of any of these guys as well.

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