Prospect Retro: Joe Blanton
I'm writing about Joe Blanton because he is a personal favorite, and (for me at least) an interesting case study in pitcher development.
Blanton was drafted by the Athletics in the first round in 2002, from the University of Kentucky, 24th overall. He was the second player picked by Oakland in the famous "Moneyball"draft class. Blanton's track record for Kentucky was mixed: he struggled with his control in his freshman and sophomore years, then took a step forward in 2002. His college numbers that year: 5-7, 4.59 with a 133/37 K/BB in 100 innings. The K/IP and K/BB ratios were good, much improved over his previous campaigns, but he was still erratic. Scouts liked his arm strength a great deal, as he showed a fastball that could hit 95 MPH. His breaking stuff was promising but erratic. I liked him enough to pick him in my 2002 Twins Shadow Draft. I gave him a Grade B- in the 2003 book.
Blanton went to Kane County in the Midwest League for 2003 and was outstanding, posting a 2.57 ERA and a 144/19 K/BB in 133 innings. He also went 2-0, 1.66 in three late-season starts for Midland in the Texas League. Blanton's command took a huge step forward, and he made massive progress with his secondary pitches. His velocity in the Midwest League was consistent at 93-94 MPH, hitting 96 at times. I gave him a Grade A- and rated him as the Number Four pitching prospect in baseball, behind Zack Greinke, Ryan Wagner, and Edwin Jackson.
Blanton skipped Double-A in 2004 and went directly to Triple-A Sacramento. He went 11-8, 4.19 with a 143/34 K/BB in 176 innings, but allowed 199 hits. He continued to refine his curveball, slider, and changeup, but he lost some velocity on his fastball, as it dipped into the 88-92 MPH range. His hit rate spiked, likely a combination of PCL environment and the drop in velocity. I lowered his grade one notch to B+, and rated him as the Number 20 pitching prospect in the game.
Blanton entered the Oakland rotation in 2005 and has been eating innings ever since. What I find interesting about him is that when he came out of college, he was considered a power pitcher with an excellent arm who needed better command. He no longer throws as hard as he did back then, but his command has come around and he's proven to be a durable rotation member. He's made a complete transition from raw thrower his first two years of college, to pure pitcher in the majors.
I wonder if there are any young power pitchers out there who could develop in a similar way?