Name: Shawn Blackwell
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: November 15, 1990
Acquired: 2009 Amateur Draft, 24th round
When the Texas Rangers learned they wouldn't be able to sign left-hander Matt Purke––the club's top pick in the '09 draft––they used the leftover money to extend offers to a few other draft picks.
One of the players who benefited was 24th-round pick Shawn Blackwell, who was offered a $300,000 bonus just days before the deadline.
Blackwell, a product of Clear Creek High School in the Houston area, promptly accepted the offer and passed on an opportunity to play collegiately at the University of Kansas.
The right-hander wasn't regarded as one of the state's top high school arms at the time, but his potential had him on the radar of many scouts. Blackwell featured an upper-80s fastball, a promising curveball, and a projectable body.
As Blackwell entered his first professional season, the primary goal was developing his tall-but-lean 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame.
"I think the biggest thing for Blackwell was getting on a professional routine," said Jayce Tingler, Blackwell's manager with the rookie-level Surprise Rangers in 2010. "He came in as kind of a 6-foot-5 baby calf, and he has really worked hard in the weight room. It was a goal of his to get up to about 220 pounds."
Blackwell began his professional career last season at Extended Spring Training. He remained at the club's minor league complex through the summer, pitching with the Rangers' rookie ball club.
Working as a starting pitcher with the Surprise Rangers, Blackwell made 13 starts and posted a 4.10 earned-run average. The 20-year-old logged 59.1 innings, gave up 63 hits, walked only nine, and struck out 42.
One of Blackwell's primary focuses since signing has been refining his changeup––a pitch he rarely used in high school.
"My changeup was a weak spot in high school, and I talk to anyone I can about changeups," Blackwell said after an Arizona League start. "If they've got a good changeup, I talk to them.
"I spoke with Richard Alvarez in Spring Training. My buddy with the Phillies from high school has helped me out. And also Justin Thompson, the (former) pitching coach in Spokane. It's kind of a mix of talking to guys and messing with grips."
As the dust settled on Blackwell's first professional season, his manager believes there was plenty of across-the-board progress.
"He started to get some man muscles," Tingler said. "With that, he's able to repeat his delivery more, get the fastball down, and the curveball is tightening up. I think just getting physically stronger has been his biggest key."
Also See: Blackwell trying to keep it down (July 5, 2010)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Jayce Tingler (July 6, 2010)
Seven teams, seven sleepers (December 26, 2010)
Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup.
Fastball: Blackwell currently works at 88-91 mph on his best days. As his 6-foot-5 frame matures, he figures to add more velocity down the line and could sit in the low-90s, perhaps touching a tick higher. The right-hander wore down and sat in the mid-80s late in his first pro season, though it shouldn't be much reason for worry over the long run.
Like most tall, young pitchers, Blackwell often battles with leaving his fastball up in the zone. He releases the ball from a good angle but doesn't always get all the way down the hill, causing his fastball to hang up in the zone and making him hittable.
Other Pitches: Blackwell shows an advanced feel for his curveball, which generally sits between 73-77 mph. The spin tightened and the break sharpened a bit last season, though there is still room for improvement and increased consistency. He often throws a bigger low-to-mid 70s curve early in counts and can bury it in the dirt at the upper-70s to chase strikeouts––a promising sign given his age and experience level.
His changeup is often too firm, though overall Blackwell shows more than a rudimentary feel for the offering. The pitch is currently inconsistent but has some fading action, and he throws it with promising arm speed. Blackwell's change projects to about average––and potentially a bit better––at this point.
Projection: While he has plenty of development remaining, the Houston-area product appears to have middle-of-the-rotation potential. Blackwell projects as a future starting pitcher due to his tall frame and strong three-pitch repertoire. He throws strikes with all three offerings but––as previously mentioned––will need to develop his command within the strike zone. Overall, Blackwell's ability to throw strikes and projected strong command should help his solid-average overall stuff play up.
2011 Outlook: The Rangers aren't likely to be too aggressive with Blackwell, who will be 20-years-old through all of next season. He figures to pitch at Extended Spring Training until the short-season Spokane schedule begins in June. Because he shows some pitchability and has a relatively mature breaking ball, a late-season promotion to Single-A Hickory shouldn't be out of the question if he succeeds earlier in the year.
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