Name: Nick Blackburn
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: February 24, 1982
Nick Blackburn entered the 2005 season as a relatively unknown to people outside the organization, but after jumping three levels in one season, Blackburn has put himself on the map. A graduate of Del City High School in Oklahoma, Blackburn began the season as the Fort Myers Miracle ace, and befor long, saw himself suiting up for the Rochester Red Wings. After struggling a bit to start his career, Blackburn appears to have put himself into position to crack a Major League roster within the next two seasons.
Blackburn was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2000, but instead decided to go to Seminole Junior College, to continue to grow as a pitcher. Then, in 2001, the Twins came calling in the 29th round, and he could not be happier with his decision to not sign with the Rays.
He was originally assigned to Elizabethton of the Appalachian League, and struggled a bit during his first season of professional baseball. He posted a 4.99 earned run average in his 13 starts, although he did strikeout nearly one batter per inning. Still, the Twins saw enough in him to assign him to full-season Quad City the next year.
The 2003 season would be the first of two seasons he began in the Midwest League, as Blackburn finished the year with a 2-9 record, working mostly out of the bullpen. He did drop his ERA down to 4.86, but his strikeout totals took a major dip. In 76 innings of work, Blackburn struck out only 40 batters, and allowed a career-high 13 home runs. The highlight of his season was a four-hit shutout of Kane County on August 4.
After appearing in 30 games for Quad City in 2004, making 13 starts, it was clear that Blackburn was ready for High-A baseball. Prior to his call-up, he had posted a 2.77 ERA, and had tossed his second complete game of his career. He did get hit pretty hard after being called up to Fort Myers, but his experience set the stage for the biggest season of his professional career.
In 2005, Blackburn started the season off as the ace of the Fort Myers staff, picking up the win in the Florida State League All-Star Game. From there, the righty was promoted to Double-A New Britain, following Miracle stars such as Denard Span, Glen Perkins, and Matthew Moses.
For New Britain, Blackburn put up staggering numbers. He started seven games, posting a 1.84 ERA, depsite winning one and losing two. He also threw two complete games, one shutout, and was promptly promoted to Rochester, mostly because Francisco Liriano, and Scott Baker had been brought up to the big club.
In Rochester, Blackburn struggled, but who could really blame him. He had been through such a roller coaster of a season, and had made it further than anyone could have expected out of a 29th round prospect.
Repertoire: 4-Seam Fastball, Curveball, Slider, 2-Seam Fastball, Changeup
Fastballs.Blackburn does not have overpowering stuff, despite the fact that he looks like a power pitcher when he on the mound. His fastball usually sits in the 88-89 miles per hour range, occasionally topping out a 91. He uses both of his fastballs to get hitters off balance, before he unleashes one of his several breaking balls. His fastball can be deceptive though, as he stands 6'4'', and it appears to get on the batters faster than the miles per hour would indicate.
Other Pitches. Blackburn uses a wide arsenal of pitches to fool hitters into believing his fastball is faster than it really is. He throws a nice looping curveball, and a tight slider, that definitely make up for his lack of velocity on his heater. He also can spot his changeup in there whenever he wants, as he is able to give batters five solid pitches to look at. When he is on, he is able to locate any one of those pitches for strikes, and it is in those times when he is almost unhittable.
Pitching.Blackburn is a pretty complete pitcher, in that he is able to spot all of his pitches for strikes. He has been used as a starter, and as a reliever, so he is able to pitch well in any spot of a ballgame. He has even picked up a save or two during his minor league career, and continues to impress scouts with his poise on the mound.
Projection. While he is currently working exclusively as a starting pitcher, Blackburn may turn out to be a long reliever if he makes it to the Major Leagues. He has a Ramiro Mendoza-type arsenal, and has the ability to work well in any situation. He does have the stamina to be a starting pitcher, and because he does not throw so hard, will be able to have nice longevity to his career.
ETA. 2007. If Blackburn puts together another season like he did in 2005, it is going to be hard for the Twins not to put him on their 40-man roster before the season is too far in. He will most likely start out at Double-A New Britain in 2006, but will be in Rochester sooner than later. From there, if he can put up good numbers in the International League, the Twins may be able to find a spot in their bullpen for a good long reliever. He may still be a year away, but he showed last year that he can handle any call-up they throw at him, and I fully expect a big year out of Blackburn in 2006.