Every Friday through the rest of the minor league season I have looked at a prospect who is currently in the lower levels of the minors, but should be on the radar of every dynasty league owner for their next minor league draft. Today's prospect does not appear to have been really well regarded at the time of the draft, but has solidified his status with a great season this year. He made his High-A debut on Wednesday night as the Game 1 starter for the San Jose Giants, and got the win after a 7 IP, 1 ER, 9 strikeout performance against Modesto. Today's prospect? Clayton Blackburn of the San Francisco Giants.
Blackburn was drafted by the Giants in the 16th round of the 2011 draft, and signed for a bonus of $150,000 soon after the draft. The team sent him to their rookie league affiliate in Arizona for the 2011 season, where he threw 33 1/3 innings over 12 starts and posted a 30/3 K/BB rate to go with his 1.08 ERA. The Giants gave him a full-season assignment for 2012, sending him to their low-A affiliate in Augusta. Blackburn thrived in Augusta this year, leading the Sally League in strikeouts (143), while walking just 18 over 131+ innings. He also posted an excellent groundball/flyball rate of 2.32 this year. He was promoted for the playoffs to High-A, and seems likely to start the 2013 season there as well.
The scouting reports on Blackburn appear to be very solid, although based on what has been said to this point it sounds like his ceiling is not as high as some of the other top pitching prospects. John Sickels gave this brief scouting report back on August 27th:
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.
To me, Blackburn profiles as more of a back-end fantasy starter, someone who will provide solid value, but won't reach that elite status in terms of both strikeouts and the other ratios. His ability to not only keep the ball on the ground and also out of the stands (just 3 home runs in those 131+ innings) bodes well for his long-term success, even if he does not develop a whole lot more. Sickels also noted that he thought Blackburn could move quickly through the system, which I would be inclined to agree with. I would estimate his ETA to be sometime late in the 2014 season, or potentially starting the 2015 season. If that were the case, he would still be just 22 years old to start the 2015 season, leaving him plenty of time on the age-to-level scale as well.
Overall, he is someone I will be targeting late in minor league drafts, as his scouting reports bode well for his ability to continue to perform at the level he has shown this season. His timeframe appears to be less than 2 full seasons toward the Majors despite being a high school draftee. The key to remember here is that his ceiling as a fantasy starter is not likely in the top 10 or potentially even the top 20, but definitely one worth watching as he progresses through the minors.
Baseball America's Draft Database
Minor League Ball