San Francisco Giants Must Hold onto Clayton Blackburn
Despite their second World Series in three years, the San Francisco Giants can't afford to slow down and risk falling behind.
It doesn't help that the past several successful seasons have overshadowed the weakness of their farm system.
However, there is still elite talent at the lower levels, one of them being pitching prospect Clayton Blackburn.
Blackburn was the 16th-round pick in the 2011 MLB draft. He chose to opt out of enrolling at the University of Oklahoma and instead signed a major league deal straight from high school.
Since then, the vaunted Giants minor league pitching coaches has helped him to pitch like a first-rounder instead of a 16th.
Last season, in an attempt to shore up the offense, the Giants swung a trade for Carlos Beltran by trading top pitcher Zack Wheeler. The results signaled that it was a failure of a trade, but it made sense when it was done.
This season, the Giants should seek to strengthen their in-house talent and hold onto Clayton Blackburn.
Lack of Minor League Depth
Winning two World Series in three years cures a lot of things.
But what it won't cure is the lack of depth in the current Giants' farm system.
What's most alarming besides the fact that there is only one player in the Top 100, Gary Brown, is that there are only three pitchers in the team's top 10.
Heath Hembree appears to be a very good reliever, but he is just that, a reliever. One that will only be able to pitch an inning or so per outing.
Kyle Crick also looks to have the potential of an ace, but like Blackburn, he is several years away.
Beside those two pitchers, the Giants don't have much top-level talent beside newly-drafted pitcher Chris Stratton.
Current Rotation Flux
Even though the Giants won the World Series behind excellent starting pitching, they'll be hard-pressed to sustain that through the entire regular season.
Matt Cain will be Matt Cain and will have no issues pitching well again next season despite some fatigue problems in the playoffs.
Madison Bumgarner also struggled a bit with fatigue and arm-angle issues, but the Giants will monitor him closely. There's no reason to think he won't be good to go when the season starts.
Ryan Vogelsong was also excellent throughout most of the season and the playoffs as well, but he turns 36 next season. However, he should still be a solid mid-rotation starter.
Barry Zito was still just an average major league starter all year long, despite the unreal pitching run he had throughout the postseason.
The wild card is Tim Lincecum. He showed great poise and composure in coming in as a reliever in a pinch and flashing his Cy Young stuff and control. This all despite one of the worst regular-season pitching performances of all time.
With the team predicated on its pitching, they'll need to look ahead to future seasons as well as the one upcoming.
So far, we've looked at the external factors as to why the Giants should keep Clayton Blackburn, but we haven't discussed why they should look to keep his arm in the farm system.
It appears that the downside of Clayton Blackburn is pretty high, leveling him as a fifth-starter type even if he doesn't pan out.
However, his ability to throw up to 95 mph and feature several other above-average offerings makes him a promising.
Bottom line, the Giants have shown the uncanny ability to find young players, tap into their potential and keep them healthy.
Noah Lowry may be the last Giants pitcher to get seriously hurt, but that had nothing to do with the pitching coaches or the front office.
How else were they able to identify journeyman Ryan Vogelsong and turn him into a postseason hero?
Or fix Madison Bumgarner's early career issues with velocity?
The Giants' coaches were also able to identify Bumgarner's postseason struggles before Game 2 of the World Series, where MadBum threw seven shutout innings against the Detroit Tigers to give San Francisco a 2-0 series lead.
How about fearlessly drafting Tim Lincecum and keeping him healthy despite all the detractors noting that his small stature would not allow his body to hold up?
And not being afraid to flip a top prospect in Tim Alderson (who is no longer a top prospect) for World Series hero Freddy Sanchez.
Sure, they have had their fair share of errors as well, like the Wheeler-Beltran trade and signing Barry Zito, but they've identified top talent and developed them.
The only other team that has a pitching staff just as consistent is the Tampa Bay Rays.
The combination of Blackburn's ability to turn into a No. 2 starter and the Giants' proven ability to extract the best from all their pitchers, has Blackburn and the organization in a very good place.
Clayton Blackburn and Kyle Crick has the ability to join Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner at the top of the rotation in two years. You can't trade that away.