Paul Blackburn is a 6-2, 185 pound righty who was drafted at the tail-end of the 1st round in 2012. He was Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's third pick since they took over for Jim Hendry. He was rated 57th entering the draft and was picked 56th overall. He signed for $911,700 and began his career shortly after in the Arizona League.
He threw only 20.2 innings last season after the draft (9 games, 6 starts) and wasn't all that impressive. He struckout 14.6% of the batters, but his walk rate was fairly solid (7.9%). As an 18 year old at the time, it was good enough.
He opened the year in extended spring training and broke with Boise when their season began in late June. He made 13 appearances, 12 starts and threw a total of 46 innings. He got off to a great start, not allowing an earned run in his first 3 starts (5 innings apiece), but struggled in the middle of the season. He came on fairly strong in last four starts.
Overall in those 46 innings, he struckout 18.7% of the batters and walked over 14%. The walk rate will obviously have to be cut way down to be successful. He allowed 3 home runs and had a fairly strong 3.33 ERA, but an FIP just a little more than a run higher (4.35).
He throws a sinking fastball that sits in the 90-93 mph range. There's a good chance he adds some velocity when he adds some bulk to his body. He throws a curveball and a changeup that are supposedly pretty good for his age.
mlb.com ranks him 17th in the Cubs organization and wrote this prior to the season.
In some ways, Blackburn is a college arm stuck in a high schooler's body. He has a really advanced feel for a prepster. He has a three-pitch mix that won't wow you in terms of pure stuff, but it's solid average across the board. Both his changeup and perhaps even his curve have the chance to be better than average in the future. His fastball has a lot of sink and will sit in the 90-93 mph range. He has very good command, showing the ability to locate and move the ball around the zone. While he will be just 19 for all of the 2013 season, his pitchability may allow him to move a little faster than many high school draftees.
Blackburn will probably open the season with Kane County next year where he may run into similar problems to Dillon Maples. I like Blackburn's future more than Maples since he's younger, but he has a long way to go to develop into an MLB pitcher. He's a pitcher to watch next year and in the future. He has three plus pitches and that's impressive for his age. He will have to refine his control and hopefully in doing so he can also increase his strikeout rate. After Pierce Johnson and Kyle Hendricks, it's going to be a long drop until the next potential starting pitching prospect shows up in the rankings unless it's Arodys Vizcaino. After that, it's probably Blackburn and then who knows?
2013 Cubs Prospect Reviews