Get to Know Giants’ Prospect Clayton Blackburn


The San Francisco Giants have had great luck with homegrown pitchers in recent years. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Sergio Romo are all examples of hurlers who were groomed within the organization. Even former farmhand Jonathan Sanchez had a great 2010 season en route to helping the Giants win their first World Series title in 56 years. Now, Clayton Blackburn is looking to join that group.

Blackburn was drafted in the 16th round, 507th overall in the 2011 amateur draft out of Edmond Santa Fre High School in Edmond, Oklahoma. Don’t let the low draft status fool you, though. Blackburn was highly regarded in the draft, but he was committed to play baseball for the University of Oklahoma Sooners. Many teams didn’t want to waste a pick on a player who they didn’t think would sign. The Giants, however, took their chances. As it turned out, Blackburn was eager to get his career started, and signed with San Francisco for just $150,000.

The 6’3″, 240 pound right-hander would indeed get his career started, and in a big way in 2011. In 12 games, including six starts, for the Rookie League Arizona Giants, Blackburn was nothing short of brilliant. He posted a 3-1 record with a 1.08 ERA, complete with 30 strikeouts and only three walks in 33.1 innings. His .570 WHIP was quite possibly the most outstanding of all his numbers.

The next season saw Blackburn skip Low-A completely and head directly to Single-A Augusta. This would begin his journey as an exclusive starter, as all 22 of his appearances were starts. His stats were again impressive, as he went 8-4 with a 2.54 ERA and 1.020 WHIP. In 131.1 innings, he struck out 143 batters, while walking only 18.

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2013 was a big year for Blackburn, as rated him as the Giants’ second-best prospect, behind only Kyle Crick, and the 93rd best prospect in all of baseball. His numbers for Advanced-A San Jose inflated a little, but were still stellar. In his 23 starts, he went 7-5 with a 3.65 ERA and 1.098 WHIP. He continued his fantastic strikeout and walk rates, as he struck out 138 opponents and issued 35 walks in 133 innings. The big red mark on Blackburn’s season was that he surrendered 12 home runs, more than double the five he allowed in his first two seasons combined.

The 2014 season was a return to normal for Blackburn, now pitching for the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels. He went 5-6, but the record doesn’t really accurately reflect his performance. He finished with a 3.27 ERA and 1.226 WHIP, while striking out 85 compared to 20 walks. He gave up only one home run. His 18 starts and 93 innings were low, as he missed more than a month due to a rib injury.

In his career, he has pitched in 77 games, including 71 starts. Overall, his 2.98 ERA and 1.054 WHIP are superb. In 395.2 innings, he has struck out 405 batters, and gave up 341 hits and only 76 walks.

Just looking at his numbers, it’s easy to see that Blackburn is an outstanding control pitcher. His 1.7 walks per nine innings, and 5.33 strikeouts per walk are a big part of what makes him so successful.

His fastball is his best pitch. It normally sits in the high 80’s, but it can reach 92 with two-seam action. The movement makes this a great groundball pitch, as its tailing movement makes it difficult to hit squarely.

He features three secondary pitches; a changeup, curveball, and slider. The changeup is the best of the three, and has been rated as the best changeup in the Giants’ organization. The curveball can be thrown with multiple breaks, either straight downward, or with more slurve-type break. The slider isn’t anything special, but it is a capable fourth pitch, used to keep hitters off balance and guessing.

Blackburn’s delivery is very easy and repeatable, which is something that scouts look for in a young pitcher. He is very sound mechanically. When teaching young kids how to pitch, his motion would be a perfect example. His approach to pitching is very smart, as he is excellent at changing speeds and eye-levels, and using both sides of the plate.

Some skeptics are wary of Blackburn because his large frame is susceptible to gaining weight as he matures. Some pitchers, like C.C. Sabathia and Bartolo Colon have succeeded despite having the same problem. Blackburn will have to work harder than most to keep his weight in check.

When 2015 starts, Blackburn will only be 22 years old. Triple-A Sacramento seems the most likely starting point for him next season, but Spring Training will be huge for him. If he can come out and impress the Giants’ brass against quality opponents in the Spring, he may find himself on the fast-track to big league action. Either way, he seems to be the most major league-ready of all Giants’ pitching prospects, and he should be used to fill a pitching need if one arises.