Cubs Prospect Interview: Todd Blackford

Todd Blackford won 10 games last season with Class-A Peoria, but posted a 5.37 ERA in 140-plus innings. The right-hander at times showed flashes of brilliance and is using this offseason to sort through issues regarding his consistency while reflecting on some recent progress he's made.

The Cubs received the 21-year-old Blackford, a 13th-round pick in 2004, toward the end of the 2005 season from Atlanta in the trade that sent OF Todd Hollandsworth to the Braves. He would post the fourth best ERA (3.17) with Class-A Danville of the Appalachian League that year.

In 2006, Blackford walked 63 and struck out 70 with the Chiefs. He recently spilled the beans on his first full year in the Cubs' farm system, what he hopes to accomplish this offseason and in 2007, and more.

Before we talk about 2007, let's spend a moment on '06.

I thought the year went all right. I wasn't real happy with the way it ended up. I started out at the beginning of the season really strong. It was the first full-season club that I played on and I thought I had a pretty good first half. The second half, I got up in innings. I think I doubled my innings and toward the end of the season, I could tell my body wasn't used to throwing that many innings and pitches, so my numbers increased. I was hoping to have a little better year than what I had, but I think I learned a lot from it.

As far as this coming year, I think I'll be able to do a lot better because of the struggles I went through last year. I look to handle certain situations better and I'm real excited for this coming season. As far as last year went, I'm pretty happy. I threw 140 innings and like I said, that was double than what I'd ever thrown before. My arm held up pretty well except for the end of the season when I had to set out the last two weeks because of shoulder soreness. They wanted to make sure that I was all right so they sent me down to Arizona for an MRI. Everything turned out all right.

What do you feel is more important: lowering your earned run average or proving to the Cubs that you can handle the workload of 140 innings?

I think the positive thing about last year was showing the Cubs that I'm durable and that I can throw the number of innings they want me to throw. I showed glimpses of being pretty good, but also glimpses of being not so good. I think they realized that I can go out and get the innings they want and that with a little more experience, I'm going to be pretty consistent. I think they like what they see so far.

You've told us before that everything kind of works around your fastball. How would you describe yourself as a pitcher?

I would still have to consider myself a power pitcher. Everything does work off of my fastball. The games that I did really well in last season were the games where I was spotting my fastball and working in the changeup and curveball for strikeouts. I still think that right now I need to work on being more consistent with my other pitches. But my pitching is still based off my fastball and I consider myself a power pitcher.

How fast would you say you throw?

I think my average speed, or my comfort zone, was 92 to 93 (mph). I would pump it up to 95. I think the thing I worked on the most was just getting more consistent with my changeup and curveball. Toward the end of the season once my arm started getting a little tired, I started struggling with location of pitches. During my sides and in practice, I was really focusing on polishing up those two pitches to keep the hitters off-balance.

Did you feel you made good strides toward that?

I think I made a lot of progress as far as locating pitches and getting more comfortable with throwing pitches, and also learning which pitches to throw in certain situations. I know since we're back throwing again in the offseason, I've been throwing my changeup and curveball and I feel a lot more comfortable. I feel a lot more progress in locating those pitches, so I think that it really helped me more than what I thought it did. Since my arm was kind of tired toward the end, I really didn't see the progress I was making then.

You were slated to go to the Instructional League in 2005, but never made it, correct?

Yeah, right before I was supposed to go down, I got a staph infection that hospitalized me for a couple of days. I didn't have all my strength. They were still thinking about having me come down, but the doctors told me I wouldn't get full strength back in my body for at least two weeks. They didn't want to risk injury or anything with me not being in shape. I did not go down to Instructs this past year because they wanted me to rest from all the innings.

What else can you tell us about the offseason?

It's gone pretty well so far. I took a couple of weeks off, maybe three or four weeks to relax, lay around and let my body recuperate from the year. I got back into lifting weights and doing my shoulder exercises and cardio. I started throwing a couple of weeks ago and my arm feels great. I've been really focused on strengthening my lower body and rotator cuff. Since I started throwing this offseason, the first couple of times I threw, I could tell my shoulder was a little week. Now I think I've got all my strength back and am just focused on increasing that strength.

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