With the loss of free agents Aramis Ramirez and Carols Pena, the Cubs used their two compensation picks to start the run on pitching in the 2012 draft.
Paul Blackburn, RHP, First Round Supplemental, Pick #56, Heritage High School
With their second compensation pick of the first round, the Cubs grabbed the first of four high school arms, selecting the right-hander from Brentwood, California. Blackburn’s plans included Arizona but instead of heading to Tempe to pitch for Arizona State he signed with the Cubs for $911,700 and went to Fitch Park in Mesa to start his pro career. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder signed shortly after the draft and made his pro debut on July 14 against the Padres allowing a homer in one inning. After getting another inning under his belt, Blackburn started to find his groove working 7.2 scoreless innings in three relief appearances yielding just four hits with five strikeouts and one walk. He pitched in four more regular season games with his best outing of the year coming against San Diego—four shutout innings with four strikeouts and only two hits and a walk. Blackburn got some post season experience getting the start in the Cubs semi-final game in the Arizona Rookie League playoffs but took the loss giving up three runs on four hits in three innings against the A’s. The 18-year-old finished the year at 2-0 record and 3.48 ERA in 20.2 innings. He had a WHIP of 1.45 and a BAA of .284.
Blackburn was a three-year starter at Heritage High School compiling 201 innings with a 24-8 record, 241 strikeouts and 48 walks. He was 10-3 with a 0.93 ERA his senior year, including a no-hitter over Deer Valley on May 1 as he fanned eight. He pitched 83 innings with 100 strikeouts and a BAA of .159.
Blackburn will likely continue to work on his craft at extended spring training and either stay in the Arizona Rookie League or head to short-season Boise in June. With a 90+ fastball, Blackburn, who won’t turn 20 until December, will need to improve his control, walking 3.05/9 last season.
Pierce Johnson, RHP, First Round Supplemental, Pick #43, Southwest Missouri State
After signing with Chicago for nearly $1.2 million on June 19, the Colorado native made his pro debut on Aug. 1 against the Indians allowing two hits in a scoreless innings. He threw two more shutout innings in the Arizona Rookie League before being promoted to Boise in the Northwest League. Johnson made four starts for the Hawks pitching two innings in each outing facing 34 hitters. He allowed 10 hits with three walks and 12 strikeouts. Johnson made two three-inning starts in Boise’s two playoff series. He allowed a run on two hits to Yakima in the semi-finals and then fanned six and allowed one unearned run against Vancouver in game 2 of the NWL finals. He finished his first pro year with a 3.27 ERA in 11 innings but had a WHIP of 1.55 and a BAA of .333.
Johnson set the Southwest Missouri State strikeout record in 2012 fanning 119 in 99.2 innings posting a 4-6 mark with a 2.53 ERA and .235 BAA. The junior’s best performance was a complete game shutout over Creighton as he struck out 16, earning national player of the week honors. He finished his college career with a win over MVC champ Indiana State and then help beat top-seeded Miami in the NCAA Regional. The righty was 11-13 overall in his 49-game career for the Bears, pitching 216 innings with 227 strikeouts, fifth best in school history. Johnson’s career took a turn during his sophomore season as after a tough start, he bounced back with 55 strikeouts in his final 53.1 innings with a 2.36 ERA and .217 BAA. As a freshman, Johnson tossed 40.2 innings with 36 strikeouts and a 7.52 ERA. He spent two summers (2010-11) in the Cape Cod League with the Harwich Mariners. A three-year starting pitcher for Faith Christian Academy in Arvada, Colorado, Johnson completed only 25 innings his senior year missing half the season with an injury. He was an all-stater the previous two seasons, going 10-0 as a sophomore including a no-hitter in the state championship game. He was drafted by Tampa Bay in the 15th round of the 2009 draft.
As the first pitcher selected by the Cubs new front office, all eyes will be on the 6-foot-3 right-hander this season. Johnson may start the year in the Midwest League with Kane County but don’t be surprised if he moves through the system quickly the next two years if he can stay healthy.
This is the eighth and final story featuring the 17 pitchers the Cubs drafted and signed in 2012. Its also served as a free look at future subscription only stories that NorthSidersReport will start running soon. Enjoy the season.