Minor League Prospect Note: Clayton Blackburn, RHP, San Francisco Giants
San Francisco Giants pitching prospect Clayton Blackburn has emerged as one of the most intriguing prospects in baseball this year. You will be hearing his name more often entering 2013, so let's take a look.
Clayton Blackburn was a successful high school pitcher in Edmond, Oklahoma, entering the 2011 draft season. However, most teams felt he was strongly committed to baseball at the University of Oklahoma, plus the prep ranks in the Sooner state were filled to the brim with pitching last year. With everyone in on Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley (don't forget Michael Fulmer, Adrian Houser, Mason Hope, and Hayden Sharp), Blackburn got lost in the shuffle and fell to the 16th round.
The Giants signed him easily for just $150,000; he was expected to demand a much larger bonus, but he wanted to get his career started. This looks like a huge bargain.
Blackburn was unbeatable in rookie ball, posting a 1.08 ERA with a 30/3 K/BB in 33 innings in the Arizona League, allowing just 16 hits, posting a 2.58 GO/AO. The Giants moved him directly to Low-A Augusta in the Sally League for 2012 and he's been excellent, with a 2.54 ERA, a 143/18 K/BB ratio in 131 innings, and just 116 hits allowed. He's given up only three homers all year, while posting a 2.32 GO/AO.
Sabermetrically, this guy is terrific. He racks up strikeouts at a strong clip, gets plenty of ground balls at the same time, and never walks anyone. His stats are superb for anyone, let alone a 19-year-old in a full-season league.
Blackburn is a left-handed hitter and a right-handed thrower, born January 6th, 1993, in Amarillo, Texas. He is stocky at 6-3, 220, and his body is physically mature: he's unlikely to gain additional height or strength, which is part of the reason he slipped in the draft, as he lacks classic projection. Scouts also worry that he may gain weight too much as he gets older, and he'll have to work hard to stay in shape.
All that said, physical projection is less important if you already throw hard, and Blackburn does, working in the low-90s with his fastball. He uses a two-seamer to induce grounders, and his fastball is notable for both nasty movement and solid velocity. Unlike many pitchers his age, he also commands the fastball well, and frequently this has been more than Low-A hitters can handle.
Blackburn also has a complete arsenal of secondary pitches, using a curveball, slider, and changeup. The curve is the best of the group at this point, but all should be at least major league average as he matures, and possibly more. Again, his ability to command his pitches helps them play up. His mound presence and feel for his craft are also quite impressive, especially for his age.
Pitchers like Blackburn usually make short work of the low minors, and with his ability to collect both strikeouts and grounders, I expect he'll handle High-A just fine in 2013. Double-A will be a bigger challenge, and it is one he could very well meet next year. Right now I rate him as a Grade B prospect, with a shot at being a mid-rotation starter.