There were no easy nights for Midwest League hitters when they faced Kane County pitching last summer—Paul Blackburn was one of the reason’s why.
“He was another high school kid, only 20, going into his first full season,” Kane County pitching coach David Rosario told Northsiders Report. “Great thing about him, is how he can control his emotions and can elevate his level of competition when he’s pitching through adversity.”
Rosario was not only impressed with the youngster maturity under adversity he also complimented Blackburn’s work ethic and professionalism. “When you play baseball, you play long seasons. You need to show up to ballpark every day with same energy, and he does that.”
Rosario was also not short on compliments about the right-handers talent.
“He can pitch,” Rosario said. “He can really locate his pitches. There are times when his pitchers are a little flat and he leaves them up in the zone, but when he’s on, he’s really tough to hit.”
Blackburn’s numbers back up his pitching coach’s claim as he ended 2014 with a career-high 117 innings to go along with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. Here’s the rest of Blackburn’s player profile:
Name: Paul Blackburn, P
Age: 21 (12/4/1993)
Weight: 190 pounds
How acquired: Drafted in 1st round 2012, #56 overall, out of Heritage High School, California. Scouted by Scott Fairbanks.
Kane County, Midwest League, Low-A (24 G, 9-4, 3.23 ERA, 117 IP, 31 BB, 75 K, 1.19 WHIP)
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 a reported $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. He got some post-season experience getting the start in the Cubs semi-final game in the 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. 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. 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.
Blackburn passed every test in his first full season, making 24 starts and logging 117 innings for the best team in the minors. Hard to define the ace of the KC staff but you could make a case for Blackburn, who won nine games and led the Cougars with 24 starts. The opening night starter, Blackburn fanned a regular-season high eight on May 16 against Quad Cities and followed up that performance with seven shutout innings against Clinton. Blackburn was named the Cubs Pitcher of the Month for May and he also earned Midwest League All-Star honors. MWL hitters batted .247/.304/.333 off the righty with a BAbip of .282, and LHH only hit. 249. He walked 2.4 BB/9 (a huge drop from 5.7 in Boise in ’13) and fanned just under six per nine. For the third straight year, Blackburn got the ball in the playoffs, and shut down Cedar Rapids in the second round, tossing five one-hit innings with seven strikeouts but didn’t figure in the decision, a game KC won 4-2.
Blackburn’s headed to Myrtle Beach and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets some innings at AA before season’s end. Because he doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, Blackburn will have to prove himself at each level but the Cubs are pleased with what they are developing. His fastball usually sits in the low-90s and can hit mid-90s when necessary, and also throws a curve and change-up. Blackburn’s ability to command all three pitches, mix speeds, and keep hitters guessing is what’s led to his success. Blackburn will have to pitch ahead in the count to have success but that plan of attack has worked pretty well for Kyle Hendricks, which is a good comp to Blackburn, minus the Ivy league education, but their styles are similar.