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Oakland A’s 2017 top-50 prospect scouting report: Paul Blackburn, RHP

Our Oakland A’s 2017 top-50 prospects list is out. Now find out more about the players on that list. In this piece, a close look at top-50 prospect Paul Blackburn. Blackburn was traded twice last season and now finds himself competing for a spot on his hometown team. Can he make the A’s rotation in 2017?

Starter Paul Blackburn. / Photo by Chris Lockard
Paul Blackburn joins the Oakland A's from Seattle. / Photo by Chris Lockard

Name: Paul Blackburn
Position: RHP
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 23
How Acquired: Acquired from the Seattle Mariners for Danny Valencia on Nov. 12, 2016.

It took two trades, but Paul Blackburn is now a member of his hometown baseball team. Can the Brentwood native reach the major leagues this season?

Before the 2016 season, Blackburn’s professional career had been relatively uneventful. The right-hander joined the Chicago Cubs’ organization in 2012 as a compensation round A draft selection. He spent the next four-and-a-half seasons making slow, but steady progress through the Cubs’ chain. Then on July 20, he was sent to the Seattle Mariners in a trade that sent Mike Montgomery to the Cubs. Blackburn barely had an opportunity to get settled with the M’s before he was traded to the Oakland A’s on November 12. Now a member of the A’s 40-man roster, Blackburn will be competing for an opportunity to reach the big leagues with the club that plays just 30 minutes from his hometown.

A graduate of Heritage High School in Brentwood, Blackburn was one of the top high school pitching prospects in Northern California before the 2012 draft. He went to the Cubs with the 56th overall draft selection that year and signed with Chicago for a little more than $900 K. The Cubs were deliberate with their development of Blackburn in 2012 and 2013, keeping him in short-season and letting him throw a combined 66.2 innings.

In 2014, Blackburn made his full-season debut, suiting up for the Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League. He had a solid season with the Cougars, posting a 3.23 ERA in a career-high 117 innings. Blackburn didn’t strike-out many (75), but he kept the ball on the ground and held Midwest League batters to a .247 average against.

In 2015, Blackburn moved up to High-A, suiting up for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. When healthy, Blackburn was effective for the Pelicans, posting a 3.11 ERA. However, he was limited to 89 innings thanks to a foot injury that cost him more than a month of the regular season and a forearm injury that kept him out of the Carolina League post-season.

Paul Blackburn Stats

2016 Tennessee 102.1 3.17 96 26 72 1.60 .251 1.19
2016 Jackson 40.2 3.54 42 9 27 1.93 .268 1.25
Career 416.1 3.24 399 124 288 1.61 .255 1.26

Blackburn entered the 2016 season knowing it was a make-or-break year for the right-hander. Although only 22, Blackburn would either need to be added to the Cubs’ 40-man roster or left exposed to the Rule 5 draft at the end of the 2016 season. He put himself into the discussion for a roster spot with a strong first season at the Double-A level. Pitching for Double-A Tennessee of the Southern League for most of the season, Blackburn put up a 3.17 ERA and a 72:26 K:BB in 102 innings for the Smokies. That effort raised Blackburn’s profile enough that he became a trade chip for Chicago in their quest towards a World Series title. On July 20, he was sent to the Seattle Mariners along with Dan Vogelbach in a deal that would aid the Cubs’ title run.

Once with the Mariners, Blackburn remained in the Southern League, suiting up for Double-A Jackson. His production fell off some with the Generals, although he still pitched well. In 40.2 innings, he posted a 3.54 ERA with a 27:9 K:BB. In total, Blackburn worked a career-high 143 innings, posting a 3.27 ERA and a 99:35 K:BB.

Despite the solid season, Blackburn was on the move again during the off-season. Seattle – looking for a right-handed power bat – traded Blackburn to Oakland for Danny Valencia. The A’s then added Blackburn to their 40-man roster before the deadline to protect players for the Rule 5 draft. He will be pitching in his first big league spring training next month.

Blackburn’s profile is similar to several pitchers in the A’s system, including fellow prospect Corey Walter and current A’s starter Kendall Graveman. Like both of those pitchers, Blackburn is a solidly built right-hander who features three solid pitches, a fastball that can touch 94 and sits in the low 90s, a curveball and a change-up. Also like Walter and Graveman, Blackburn pitches to contact. His career K/9 is just 6.23. His BB/9 has improved throughout his career and he posted his best BB/9 of his career (2.20) last season. Blackburn is a groundball pitcher who has allowed 22 homers in 416.1 innings.

Although Blackburn just turned 23, he doesn’t have a lot of projection left with his stuff. He may add another off-speed pitch now that he is in the A’s system, but he isn’t likely to see many gains with his fastball. Blackburn proved last season that he can be durable, making 26 appearances. At his peak, Blackburn profiles to be similar to former A’s starter Joe Blanton, although Blanton had more strike-outs as a minor leaguer. They have a similar pitch-mix and a similar aggressive approach on the mound.

Blackburn certainly earned an opportunity in Triple-A after 143 innings in Double-A last year, but he will have plenty of competition for a spot in the Nashville rotation this spring. Even if he begins the year with Double-A Midland, Blackburn is likely to reach Nashville at some point in 2017.

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