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: