Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Prospect Retrospective: Clayton Blackburn

Clayton Blackburn is well known to Giants prospect watchers.  He was drafted by the Giants in round 16 of the 2011 draft out of Edmonds, OK, warming the hearts of Giants draft and prospect watchers who had long criticized Brian Sabean and Co for not taking enough chances on the upside of HS prospects.  His pro debut with the rookie ball Arizona Giants was impressive to say the least:  3-1, 1.08, 33.1 IP, 0.81 BB/9, 8.10 K/9, GO/AO= 2.58.  Scouting reports cautioned that his raw stuff was marginal and might not play at higher levels.  Saber enthusiasts liked him better and thought maybe his stuff would develop as he got older and stronger.  The one problem with that thinking was his already big body might not have any room to develop!

His first full season with the Low A Augusta Greenjackets in 2012 was almost as impressive:  8-4, 2.54, 131.1 IP, 1.13 BB/9, 9.80 K/9, GO/AO= 2.32.  The K/9 was good, check.  The BB/9 was excellent, check.  The groundball tendency was also excellent, check.  The Sabers were winning this one!  2013 found him in San Jose where he put up a line of 7-5, 3.65, 133 IP, 2.37 BB/9, 9.34 K/9, GO/AO= 1.54.  The ERA was disappointing and the groundball rate took a hit, but the K's and BB's were still solid and the Cal League is a whole lot tougher for pitchers than the SAL.

He was plagued with some minor injury issues in 2014 but his numbers slightly rebounded in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League:  5-6, 3.29, 93.1 IP, 1.94 BB/9, 8.23 K/9, GO/AO= 1.95.  Scouting reports continued to question his raw stuff and there were whispers of conditioning issues.  The Giants promoted him to AAA for the 2015 season.  He was roughed up early in the season but was dominant in the last 2 months and ended up with the best ERA for qualified pitchers in the PCL:  10-4, 2.85, 123 IP, 2.34 BB/9, 7.24 K/9, GO/AO= 1.59.  Clayton attributed his success down the stretch to improved conditioning.  He appeared to be nearing the top of the Giants SP depth chart.  Sabers continued to like him better than the scouts.

He got a long look in spring training of 2016 but was ultimately sent back to AAA where his numbers slumped.  When the Giants needed a starter to replace Matt Cain, Albert Suarez got the call.  The stretch run of 2015 never materialized for Blackburn and he was clearly passed on the depth charts by Ty Blach even Chris Stratton with Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez coming up fast from the lower minors.  Clayton got hit hard in spring training of 2017 and his first start for Sacramento did not go well.  When the Giants needed a 40 man roster spot for Tim Federowicz, they chose to DFA Blackburn, an move that ended with a trade to the Rangers for a low level IF prospect named Frandy De La Rosa.  On social media, Clayton was happy to get a chance to pitch for the organization he rooted for as a kid.

So what happened here?  Were the scouts right all along and his stuff just not quite good enough?  Did his conditioning regress from 2016?  Did he go into an emotional funk when his terrific 2015 in AAA did not translate into an immediate MLB job?  Perhaps it was all of the above, or just a big fat dose of bad luck.  Hopefully he puts it back together in the Rangers organization and has some great experiences pitching for his dream team.

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