Paul Blackburn, P
Age: 20 (12/4/1993)
Weight: 190 pounds
2013 Team: Boise Hawks, Northwest League, (SS)
Northsiders Report 2014 Ranking—# 16
How acquired:—First-round compensation pick (#56 overall) in 2012 draft
Prior to Cubs
Blackburn was a three-year starter at Heritage High School compiling 201 innings with a 24-8 record, 241 strikeouts, and 48 walks. He was 10-3 with a 0.93 ERA his senior year (83 IP, 100 K, .159 BAA). including a no-hitter over Deer Valley on May 1 as he fanned eight. Blackburn's plans included Arizona but instead of heading to Tempe to pitch for Arizona State, he signed with the Cubs for $911,700 and went to Fitch Park in Mesa to start his pro career.
Blackburn made his pro debut on July 14, 2012 against the Padres, allowing a homer in one inning for Mesa in the Arizona Rookie League. After getting another inning under his belt, Blackburn started to find his groove working 7.2 scoreless innings in three relief appearances, yielding just four hits with five strikeouts and one walk. He pitched in four more regular season games with his best outing of the year coming against San Diego—four shutout innings on two hits and a walk with four strikeouts.
Blackburn got some post-season experience getting the start in the Cubs semi-final game in the Arizona Rookie League playoffs but took the loss giving up three runs on four hits in three innings against the A's. The 18-year-old finished the year at 2-0 with a 3.48 ERA in 20.2 innings. He had a WHIP of 1.45 and a BAA of .284. Blackburn spent the off-season adding weight to his 6-foot-2 frame, over 30 pounds according to one report.
Blackburn showed flashes of why the Cubs selected the California prep, starting the year at Boise with 15 shutout innings in three starts with 20 strikeouts and two walks. He was named NWL pitcher of the week for his performance. The rest of the regular season was a different story, The right-hander struggled with his command the final 10 games, walking 27 in 31 innings. He only went five innings twice during the stretch, holding Salem-Keizer to one hit and no runs on Aug. 23 but walked a season-high six.
When the playoffs rolled around, Blackburn stepped it up with career highs in innings and strikeouts—fanning eight in a career-best seven innings of two-hit ball in Game 1 of the divisional playoffs and then whiffed a career-high nine in five innings in Game 2 of the finals, allowing a run on three hits and a walk. Blackburn was fourth on the team with 46 IP and finished with 13G, 2-3, 3.33 ERA, 41 H, 26 R, 17 ER, 28 BB, 38 K. He throws a sinking fastball in the low 90s, mixing in a change-up and curve.
Consistency will be the key for Blackburn as he's expected to help anchor the rotation at Kane County to start the season. The right-hander will be looking to log over 100 innings in his first full-season and find a consistent delivery that allows him to showcase his plus stuff. Blackburn has plenty of work to do before he reaches Wrigley and some in the industry are high on the 20-year-old. While many will judge his numbers, its more important he matures and progresses as a pitcher, showing the ability to take the ball every five days and attack hitters.