Position: RHP Height: 6-3 Weight: 220 Born: 12/11/80 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Joe Blanton was drafted in the first round in 2002, 24th overall, from the University of Kentucky. A member of the famous "Moneyball" prospect class, so far he's had the best run of professional success. Blanton was erratic in college, dominating at times, but occasionally struggling with his mechanics and command. He's put things together quickly in pro ball, however, and is now one of the top pitching prospects in the game. His name has come up in trade rumors, but so far Oakland has resisted the temptation to part with him.
Blanton relied mostly on his fastball in college, and it's a good one, timed as high as 96 mph, though more usually in the 91-93 range. The pitch has movement to go with velocity, and he is adept at working either corner of the plate with it. Blanton's curve was decent in college, and he's improved it as a pro. It is now a big-time strikeout pitch, especially when he mixes it well with the fastball. He also has a slider and changeup, both of which have improved considerably over the last year. Put it together, and Blanton features a solid four-pitch arsenal. While Blanton's mechanics gave him trouble in the past, he's smoothed them out considerably, helping his command. He isn't especially athletic, and has to watch his weight. He has a good dose of confidence in his makeup, though he sometimes overthrows in tight situations, trying to overpower the hitter. His stuff has enough natural movement that he doesn't have to do that. Blanton keeps the ball down, and is not overly vulnerable to the home run.
Nothing to complain about here. Blanton's K/BB and K/IP were extremely impressive last year in both Class A and Double-A. He's been a bit more hittable this year in Triple-A, but that is normal, and his ratios remain strong considering the high-offense context of the Pacific Coast League. His home run ratio is quite low, a strong positive marker. He pitched a scoreless inning in the All-Star Futures Game last Sunday.
So far, Blanton has had no serious health problems, and looks like he might develop into a solid inning-eater. The main worry is mechanical consistency. His delivery has been cleaned up, but still looks somewhat stressful. So far, it hasn't resulted in any critical problems. His generally good command helps him from running up big pitch counts, and Oakland has handled him carefully. Blanton has to work to keep extra weight off his body, which tends to pick up poundage a bit too easily.
What to expect
Many teams have asked about Blanton in trade talks, but so far Oakland has refused to budge. If that remains true, Blanton should get a full shot at the Athletics rotation next spring. He is very close to being ready for Major League action, basically just needing some additional experience and refinement to his pitch sequences. He gets into a rut occasionally, over-using one or two pitches. When he uses his entire arsenal, he can dominate a game.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, Jeri; son, Nicholas; and feline friends Toonces and Spot.