M's 2005 Top 50 Prospects: No. 4

InsidethePark.com's next prospect in the Top 50 is the last left-hander on the journey to Big Kahuna. Premium Subscribers, and those who were victorious in the trivia challenge for the month of January, can enjoy prospect No. 4.




In the winter of 2000 the Mariners sent their international scouts to the Junior World Championships to scout a Korean pitcher. The pitcher was facing the Australian club and defeated the young Aussies, 2-1, but that wasn't the best news that came out of the tournament.

The M's liked what they saw from the 17-year-old southpaw that held the more experienced Korean team to two runs on six hits. They liked him so much that they signed him to a contract. They have been pleased with his progress ever since.

Travis Blackley lost that game but with the exception of his second pro season when he went 5-9, the left-hander has a career 31-10 record, including winning 25 of 34 decisions in San Antonio and Tacoma the past two seasons.

The M's 2003 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Blackley went 17-3 in Double-A and didn't lose a game after the all-star break. He followed that up by leading the Pacific Coast League in ERA for the first half of the season and getting the call the big leagues at the end of June.

The struggles in a Mariner uniform didn't do much to soften Blackley's status as a solid pitching prospect, even after posting an ERA over 10 and showing command issues, as well as a lack of confidence.

But, where there is a way, Blackley is going to find the will. The 22-year-old doesn't take to failing too lightly and his competitive fire is a major asset that will ultimately push him over the top.

Blackley's lack of success in the major leagues followed him back to Triple-A, which was a clear sign that something else was wrong. After a handful of rough outings in Tacoma, Blackley was diagnosed with tendonitis in his left shoulder and sat out the final month of the year.

The tendonitis is the cause for his loss in velocity in his stint with the big club, as he went from throwing in the high-80s to topping out in the 82-83 MPH range.

A healthy Blackley has a chance to finish the 2005 season in a Seattle uniform, justifying the organization's confidence in his abilities.

After a winter full of rehab, Blackley will report to spring training ready to go. The left-hander should get a chance to regain the form that the M's first saw in him way back in 2000 in the Junior World Championships when they set out to scout the Korean flame-thrower.

Oh, yeah, the M's signed him, too. (Shin-soo Choo)

In the end, Blackley's average stuff and advanced pitch-ability could allow for the M's to replace the aging Jamie Moyer with a more talented version of the M's second-winningest pitcher in team history.



Welcome to Adobe GoLive 6
InsideThePark Prospect No. 4
Travis Blackley LHP
Opening Day Age: 22
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Acquired: Signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2000

Year

Team

G

GS

W-L

IP

Hits

BB

K

Sv

ERA

WHIP

2004

Tacoma

19

18

8-6

110.1

100

47

80

0

3.83

1.33

2004

Seattle

6

6

1-3

26.0

35

22

16

0

10.04

2.19




Strengths:
Talk to anyone that has sat down with Blackley and talked pitching and they will all tell you that confidence is something he is not lacking. Some believe he has too much confidence and it borders on an arrogance that hinders his ability to make adjustments. When it comes down to it, Blackley understands what he needs to do to polish his abilities and earn that permanent spot on the 25-man roster; he needs to listen to Rafael Chaves and Pat Rice and put everything he has into bettering himself on the hill.

"I think the best thing that happened to him was him struggling up in the big leagues last year," said Rice. "I think it'll give him a better idea of where he needs to be in the future."

Weaknesses:
Contrary to what many have reported, and still believe, Blackley's emotions are not a concern of his, nor the organization. His experience in Oakland was an isolated situation and many pitchers go through such a scenario when things aren't going their way. Blackley does tend to take things a little bit too seriously at times and this forces him to think a little bit too much during each at-bat. Focusing more on pitching his game rather than adapting to each and every situation is in his best interest.

"I don't think he lacks anything in particular," said an America League scout. "He needs to pitch to his strengths."

"When he got into the big leagues, he was kind of in a down time, said Rice. "It just escalated into some bad things in the big leagues. Confidence goes down and I think his arm probably tired, or his arm became sore. That probably came into play."



Tools: Scout's Profiling Scale

Fastball: 50
Blackley's fastball sits in the 86-89 MPH range and occasionally brushes the 90 MPH plateau. Cutting the fastball in and out gives him a second pitch to effectively throw to left-handed hitters. Hitters will sit on the off-speed stuff and get blown away by Blackley's fastball, painted on the corner.

Slider: 55
Not a dominant pitch but Blackley uses his slider as his out pitch versus left-handers and to give righties something else to look at while he sets up the change.

More consistency is needed to keep lefties from leaning out over the plate and sitting on the fastball. Blackley spent much of last season searching for a feel for his slider as it came and went with each outing.

"He has confidence in his slider," said the scout. "But when it's not breaking sharply it's a flat fastball and that becomes trouble."

Change Up: 60
In 2004, Blackley's change was MIA for much of the season. No, not the change he threw a third of the time to set up other pitches. The real change he was baffling hitters with in 2003 and the first part of 2004 wasn't with him when he made his trek through a few big-league lineups in July.

"It is solid with good arm action," said the scout of Blackley's change up. "If he can make it a plus pitch consistently he can do some good things with it."

Command: 60
Blackley's loss of velocity and subsequent loss in confidence aren't indicative of his command. As his shoulder rests and recoups, his command should rebound back to normal status. Without top-tier stuff, Blackley's control is a crucial aspect of his game. Better-than-average command is a must.

Delivery: 70
Blackley's delivery is smooth and absent of a major flaw that might induce injury or control problems. His work with runners on base is solid and he possesses one of the best pickoffs in the minors. His deceptive move, to both first and second base, is so good that he once picked off the same runner twice in the same inning. A feat made possible by an interference call on the first occurrence.

That move is very sneaky," said a National League scout. "I saw him a few years ago when he picked off his 15th or 16th runner. It seems as if he doesn't mind having a guy on base."



Future:
Blackley is a rare kind of starting pitcher that may actually have a chance to become a No. 3 starter with his average stuff. With improvements in his control and refined secondary pitches, a healthy Blackley is a solid candidate to break into the M's starting rotation within the next year. The top rated left-hander in the Mariners organization will start his second season with the Tacoma Rainiers in Triple-A. Blackley will be one of the staff leaders this time around and should be one that manager Dan Rohn can lean on. This responsibility is important in his development.

"On the mound he's very mature and he understands how to pitch," said Rice. "For a young kid, he's dominated through smarts on the mound."

"That guy is a winner," said the AL scout. "I think he has a good shot to be effective."



MLB Clone: Tom Glavine, Shawn Estes

MLB ETA: 2005





Jason A. Churchill can be reached via e-mail at JasonAChurchill@insidethePark.com






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