Nick Blackburn: TCD Pitcher of the Year

Nick Blackburn turned plenty of heads during the 2007 season, and showed that he can pitch at the Major League level. Blackburn, who is widely considered one of the top right-handers in the Twins organization, was a top pitcher in the International League this past year.

The pitcher rankings this year had Kevin Slowey in the top spot with a 162.222 grade (Kevin was #2 last year and #3 in his rookie 2005 season). Scott Baker was second at 149.821 following his grading out in the 7th spot last year and 2nd in 2005. Nick Blackburn was a close third at 147.199, with Brian Duensing fourth at 124.7235, Brad Tippett fifth at 117.142 and Jeff Manship sixth at 116.559.

In 2005, Nick Blackburn had a remarkable year moving all the way from A ball up to a successful stint with the AAA Red Wings. That performance saw him ranked as the #4 pitcher in my year end rankings, however, Nick wasn't as successful in 2006 when his ranking dropped to 32nd. As this season began, he was behind a long list of top prospects when he was assigned as a starter for the AA New Britain Rock Cats. What transpired has Nick back on a short list of candidates for the Twins 2008 rotation, making Nick Blackburn's performance this season worthy of recognition as Pitcher of the Year.

Nick was selected by the Twins in the 29th round of the 2001 draft. After attending Seminole State JC, Nick began his professional career in 2002 with the Elizabethton Twins where he had a 3-3 record with a 4.99 ERA in 66.2 innings with 62K/21BB. In 2003 he was promoted to Quad Cities where he was 2-9 with a 4.86 ERA in 76.0 innings with 40K/18BB.

In 2004, he repeated at Quad Cities where he was 6-4 with a 2.77 ERA in 84.1 innings with 66K/23BB. His performance at Quad Cities earned a mid-season promotion to Ft. Myers where he was 3-3 with a 6.27 ERA in 37.1 innings with 21K/7BB.

The following year began back at Ft. Myers where Nick was 7-5 with a 3.36 ERA in 93.2 innings with 55K/16BB, earning a promotion to New Britain where he was 2-4 with a 1.84 ERA in 49.0 innings with 27K/10BB. When Rochester was in need of a starter for several games due to injuries and callups, Nick got the call, pitching 14.0 innings in 3 games for the Red Wings with a 0-0 record, 5.14 ERA and 7K/3BB. His excellent performance at three levels earned Nick my #4 ranking of all pitchers in 2005.

Nick repeated 2006 at New Britain where he did not have the same success he had a year earlier. He stayed at New Britain all year, compiling a 7-8 record with a 4.42 ERA in 132.1 innings with 81K/37BB.

Although his 2006 season was solid, the Twins expected more and he began 2007 back at New Britain for a third season. This year however, Nick was determined that it was time he made his move. With Errol Simonitsch going on the DL the first week of the season and Anthony Swarzak suspended, Nick took charge as the Rock Cat Ace with a 3-1 record and 3.08 ERA in 38.0 innings with 18K/7BB. With several starting pitchers in Rochester getting the call up to the Twins, Nick got the call to return to Rochester.

His performance at Rochester was better than anyone could have anticipated. Nick compiled a 7-3 record for the Wings, with a 2.11 ERA and 88K/30BB in 110.2 innings. At one point, Nick had a stretch of over 41 innings without allowing an earned run as he and fellow callup, Brian Duensing, kept Rochester's hopes for the playoffs alive.

As his wonderful year in AAA closed, Nick got the call all players wait for…as the Twins added him to their 40-man roster and called him up to the big club for September. So far, Nick has pitched very well for the Twins, appearing in 3 games with a 2.70 ERA in 6.2 innings with 4K/2.

Will Nick begin 2008 with the Twins? If he does, will it be as part of their rotation of perhaps as the long man out of their bullpen? Regardless of what 2008 brings, Nick Blackburn's 2007 season was a remarkable one worth of his recognition as Pitcher of the Year.

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