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Albert Almora wasn’t the Chicago Cubs’ only first rounder selected in the MLB Draft on Monday night. The Cubs also took two pitchers, college righty Pierce Johnson (43rd overall) and high school righty Paul Blackburn (56th overall), in the supplemental first round of the Draft, which is *kind of* like the first round. No, the talent there isn’t quite the same as the top the of the first, but obviously it’s still quite good.

And so it is with Johnson and Blackburn. Let’s take a closer look at the two pitchers the Cubs took with their second and third picks in the Draft.

First, on Johnson:

  • He’s a 6’3″, 180 lbs Junior, who was dominant this year for the Missouri State Bears. He put up a 2.53 ERA over 14 starts. He struck out 119 and walked just 28 in 99.2 innings. Before heading to college, he was a 15th round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Rays. Johnson just turned 21 on May 10.
  • MLB.com ranked Johnson the 38th best prospect in the Draft, John Sickels ranked him 36th, and Baseball America ranked him 32nd. He missed parts of this season with a strained forearm, otherwise he would have been ranked even higher. (Reports say he’s healthy now, and there is no long-term, structural damage.) He ended the season blisteringly hot, including recording his team’s first ever streak of four straight starts striking out at least 10 (and Missouri State has had quite a few big-time pitching prospects).
  • Johnson throws a mid-90s fastball, and has a plus curve. He’s working on a changeup, which he hasn’t  used too much to this point.
  • Johnson said the Cubs called him about two picks before they went at number 43, and told him they were planning on taking him. Of the selection, he said he “couldn’t be happier” and was “just trying to soak it in.”
  • Keith Law likes Johnson’s stuff and his potential, but has concerns about his delivery: “I’m not wild about Johnson’s delivery, however: He turns his elbow over very hard through release, putting a lot of pressure on it, and his stride is so long that he can’t finish out over his front side. Johnson apparently suffered no structural damage and his velocity had bounced back by mid-May. He’s a potential No. 2 starter if fully healthy, but the rotation of his elbow through release, combined with the history now of forearm strains, is a red flag for me.”
  • And a video on Johnson:

Second, on Blackburn:

  • He’s a 6’2″, 180 lbs high school senior, who turned 18 in December. You can assume he put up video game numbers in high school, because that’s what Draft prospects do. (He had a 0.93 ERA this year.)
  • MLB.com ranked Blackburn as the 69th best prospect in the Draft. John Sickels had him at 61, and Baseball America had him at 57.
  • Blackburn throws a fastball that sits in the low-90s, but ticks a bit higher at times. He’s got a decent curveball and changeup, which scouts think can be much better. They also believe he can add some more velocity yet, and can improve his command. He’s a great athlete, but most of the upside is “projection.” In other words, he could be excellent, or he could be a bust.
  • Blackburn’s thoughts on being drafted: “I wasn’t really expecting it. I knew the Cubs were in the mix, but I didn’t think it’d be until later in the second round …. All my hard work has paid off now. I hope to fulfill my dream. I hope to make it through and make it to the big leagues.” Think he wants to sign? He added that, “I know the Cubs haven’t won a World Series in a long time. Hopefully I can bring that to Chicago.” Good for you, guy. Obviously I hope the Cubs get there long before you arrive in the bigs, but I like your moxie.
  • And some video of Blackburn in action:

  • Carew

    This is the first time i’ve really followed the draft, and man i am excited

  • Bails17

    FYI…Keith Law is crazy. The “turning over of the elbow” he is talking about is pronation. You MUST pronate to relieve pressure from the elbow. Watch Lincecum and Oswalt. They both pronate very early just like PJ here. He has a great delivery and should be able to stay away from elbow or shoulder issues for the most part because of it.

  • BFiddy

    There was some video of Johnson snapping off a few breaking balls during the MLB.com coverage. Harold Reynolds was visibly surprised and impressed by how good PJ looked…gotta love guys with +curves…

    • JulioZuleta

      Keith Law is as overrated as they come. He knows very little about the intricacies of the game. He masks is ignorance with snide comments and sarcasm. A lot of the time he says something that is just flat out incorrect, no way around it. ESPN would be smart to promote their #2 guy, Kiley McDaniel. It’s pretty telling that Goldstein and Law used to both work for BP, and you never see them interacting in any way whatsoever.

      • Bails17

        Agreed. I rarely hear anything intelligent come out of his mouth.

      • http://www.twitter.com/centralmessage Nick

        Other than Law’s numerous appearances on KG’s podcast, dead on.

  • djriz

    Blackburn is already better than Garza…he got a hit!

    And did you notice Johnson pounding his glove, when the batter hit a foul?….LOVE me some intensity.

  • When the Music’s Over

    If healthy and not on an IP limit this summer, does this guy go straight to Peoria if/when he signs this summer? If so, and does well, does he start at Daytona next year? If not, does he still start at Daytona next year?

    • When the Music’s Over

      Sorry, to clarify, I am referring to Pierce Johnson.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      It could definitely play out that way, but even with college guys, it’s a fair bet they start at Boise for at least a couple starts. He’s thrown 100 innings this year and had an injury, so he might not throw all that much more.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        With over 100 innings, I’d not be surprised if the Cubs kept him Arizona until very late in the season.  He might get one or two starts anywhere from Boise to Daytona, depending how rotations line up, and mainly to give him a little experience to build on for next year.

         

        • djriz

          This is a hypothetical question, which may sound a bit weird (far-fetched, creepy, wotrhless, whatever), but what happens if the Cubs actually sign 25 pitchers? It could happen. Only a few would fit at Peoria. So that’s 22-23 pitchers between Boise and Mesa added to the pitchers that are already slated for those teams.
          Do we still have an ExST complex operating?

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

            Sure.  The Cubs compound in Mesa operates year round.  If the Cubs signed more pitchers than they have spots in the leagues for, they would slot some where they can and get the rest working out in Arizona.  It wouldn’t be a problem at all.

            • Chris

              Invariably though, signing that many pitchers will force out some of the lower level pitchers that aren’t moving up in the system too. Guys going backwards in Peoria or getting too old for their league and not performing, might be released to make room for the domino effect of signing that many guys.

  • Nomar’s Left Glove

    who televises high school baseball?

    • Toby

      I can usually watch high school baseball on the local sports network.

  • Vitters for 2012!

    mlb.com had dwayne underwood higher ranked then blackburn

  • Evenbetternewsv2.0

    I kind of like that Blackburn kid more than I did with comments like that. Sounds like he isn’t going to pass up the money.

    • calicubsfan007

      I would rather say that he wont pass up the “opportunity”. Saying money makes me feel like we’re talking about Appel again. Stupid Boras.

  • calicubsfan007

    So, does that mean Blackburn will sign? Based on what was said above about both guys, I am really excited about the pitchers we got. I vaguely remember Keith Law whinning about Lincecum’s release too, so I consider this “negative” to be a positive.

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