BOISE — Paul Blackburn has pitched in rookie ball in Arizona since being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft.
Not many people have seen him work.
"We would maybe get 20 people at a game," Blackburn said of the Mesa Cubs' contests in the hot, summer desert.
So Blackburn was plenty excited to arrive in Boise on Tuesday night. Blackburn and 22 teammates will practice Wednesday at Memorial Stadium as they prepare for the Northwest League season. Boise opens at Eugene on Friday and begins a three-game homestand against Salem-Keizer on Monday.
"I'm excited to get into an actual game atmosphere, with the fans," said Blackburn, who throws up to 94 mph. "My first outing last year, after getting drafted, there was some adrenaline. But after that, it's just been grinding."
First-year Boise manager Gary Van Tol has spent the past three weeks with players in Arizona, and he is excited to see how they perform. Blackburn likely will get his first start in the Eugene series.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do under the lights and on a little bigger stage," Van Tol said. "From an organizational standpoint, that's what this level is all about."
On paper, Blackburn figures to be one of the Hawks' top pitchers. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound righty is the highest-drafted player on the roster (he was taken 56th overall with a compensatory pick), and he is widely regarded as one of the Cubs' top prospects.
"He's a good, young talent that has a lot of potential, a lot of projection," Van Tol said.
Blackburn's overall athleticism is part of his package.
He was an all-league basketball player in high school (Brentwood, Calif.) before giving up the sport to focus on baseball. When he wasn't pitching, Blackburn played shortstop and was one of his team's top hitters. In his three years, he compiled a 24-8 record with 241 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.95.
Now it's time to see how far that right arm can take him as a professional. The first big step begins with the Hawks.
"I'm just ready for it," Blackburn said.
Said Van Tol: "He's very comfortable on the mound, and he can field his position. He's ready. Let's see how he does."
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