Clayton BlackburnIt was a hot day in San Jose when I drove down from San Francisco for my first ever player interview. It was also my first trip down to Municipal Stadium in a very long time. Like, 10 years long.

The first thing I noticed was batting practice was going on. And who was pitching? Shawon Dunston. Good to see the Giants organization using the resources they have available to them to nurture our minor league system. It’s no wonder that some of the most beloved San Francisco Giants are from our farm.

Clayton Blackburn won’t be the exception. It’s clear from his trip so far in the minors that he’s going to have a very successful career ahead of him. So far in the early season, the 20-year-old right-hander has shown some incredible stuff for such a young age. Blackburn has struck out 62 in his last 52.1 IP and is known for his command and ability to get batters out with a mid-90s sinker and wicked curveball. With the San Jose Giants (much like their counterparts in San Francisco) hurting with injuries, including three of their original six-man rotation: Kyle Crick, Adalberto Mejia, and Chris Marlowe, Blackburn is now in the spotlight and one of the Giants’ most intriguing prospects.

Clayton was kind enough to sit down with me after a workout in the hot sun and answer a few questions, including what his goals are this season, which San Francisco Giants player he feels the most similar to, and his thoughts on adding a DH in the National League.

How is the general season going? I know you pitched last night and you’ve been having a good season so far but wanted to see what you felt was working for you and what you’ve been trying to improve on this season.

I started off the year pretty good – I had three or four good starts in a row and I had a slump where I had a couple rough outings but my pitching coach and I got together and corrected a few things. Last night, I had a couple walks, which is uncharacteristic but I battled through it and made some good pitches where I needed to. I didn’t get all the breaks my way but I still battled and I felt good about last night. This year I’m just working on better command of the zone, breaking ball, changeup, and all that.

Like you mentioned, I noticed you don’t walk a lot of people in general. What is your favorite go-to pitch or strikeout pitch?

My favorite pitch to throw is changeup. I think the changeup’s big for me. If I’m throwing a good changeup, I’m usually having a pretty good outing. My best pitch is probably my curveball.

Yeah, that thing is nasty.

(laughs) Thank you.

So I was listening to your interview a few weeks ago on KNBR with Marty Lurie and you mentioned you really love Nolan Ryan and that’s who you were looking up to growing up. Is there anyone on the current roster who you look up to?

Obviously playing with the Giants organization, I look up to Matt Cain. He’s a great guy – similar pitching styles, same velocities, breaking ball, changeup. Before the end of the year, before he got hurt, Chris Carpenter was another guy I looked up to. I think he’s a great pitcher. Growing up I loved watching Pedro Martinez pitch, guys like that – the guys who just attack the zone and that’s been what I’ve grown up doing – throw a lot of strikes and get early outs.

Who do you think you’re the most similar to?

I don’t know … I’d like to say Matt Cain, but I don’t know if I’m that good. Probably a guy similar to Matt Cain. Throws a pretty good sinker, breaking ball, and changeup.

You could be the next horse.

I hope so.

I know you just came up from the Sally League and this year in San Jose is a bit different. Do you think a lot has changed for you in terms of team dynamic, traveling, any of that?

I’d say this team has a lot closer core of a group. You know this team gets along great. We won 34 games now, I think, and we’re doing a really good job of getting behind each other. The team chemistry on this team is great. I don’t think we do anything differently from last year, I just think the group of guys we have just mesh together really well and it shows on the field. We’re looking to clinch this first half to make the second half a little bit easier on us. I’m looking forward to the next two weeks and playing Visalia.

I know we talked a little bit about this already, but are there any personal goals you’ve set for yourself this year?

Yeah, I want to compound last year – I had a good year. I struggled early last year also – I kind of went through the same struggles this year but I’m turning a corner and progressing every time out.  Keep the walks down like last year, keep the strikeouts up. You know, I don’t love striking people out but it does look good. Just work on getting a lot of ground balls. Usually when I’m pitching good, I get a lot of ground balls.

If you weren’t a pitcher, what position would you want to play?

Probably third base – that’s what I played in high school. I like to hit a lot, so probably third base. But I don’t think anybody will be playing third base for the [San Francisco] Giants anytime soon

Speaking of hitting, you’ll probably be playing in the National League  where the pitchers hit. There’s been some talk of doing away with that and implementing a DH. How do you feel about that?

I think that would be terrible for the game. I don’t like how the AL has the DH anyway. Not just from a pitcher’s perspective but from the game’s perspective. I think it makes it more competitive in the National League where the managers have to worry about double-switches, when to take the pitcher out, and all of that. I think that would ruin the game if they put in the DH.

So, are you a pretty good hitter?

Uhhh … I’m a good bunter. 

And here’s a little clip of something I hope to do with my future minor league interviews – seven fun/silly questions with Clayton Blackburn (major h/t to Bill Hanstock aka @sundownmotel for the name of the segment)

Watch to find out:

  • What Blackburn and Hunter Pence have in common
  • What he thinks of Game of Thrones
  • What current SF Giants player he would like to spend the day with
  • MORE!

A Minor Inquisition – Seven Questions with Clayton Blackburn: