Player: Aaron Blair
Date of Scouting Report: 1/16/17
Age: 25 on 5/26/17
How Acquired: Traded from Arizona (12/15)
Years Before Free Agency: 6
Years Before Arbitration: 3
|By Editosaurus (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons|
The 36th overall selection of the 2013 draft out of Marshall, Blair became a hot prospect after a 2014 campaign that saw him log 154 innings with 171 strikeouts as he climbed from low-A ball to Double-A. He followed it up with a big 2015, though his strikeouts fell as he reached Triple-A. After the season, he was acquired with Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte in the Shelby Miller trade. He would go on to split 2016 between Triple-A and Atlanta, though he wasn’t impressive at either spot.
Offensive Observations and Grades:
In three seasons since beginning to pick up the bat again, Blair has just four hits at the minor league level and one in the majors. He does have a minor league homer, though the frequency for turning a minor league plate appearance into a sacrifice bunt is slightly below the average you are looking for (8%-10%). He received 23 PA in the majors last year and struck out 9 times. Two of the three times he attempted a sacrifice bunt, he was successful. He’s never attempted a steal and appears to lack athleticism to be anything but a bad base runner.
Pitching Observations and Grades:
From the windup, Blair keeps the ball about waist-high until a high leg kick. During this, Blair keeps the ball well-hidden by cocking his body at an angle. He pitches from the first-base side of the rubber and gets good extension with a high 3/4’s delivery. He cuts things down from the stretch and gets the ball to the plate with good speed throughout his delivery. He rarely was ran on by opposing teams in the minors as a result. The two best things about his delivery are the deception he creates to hide the ball and how he effortlessly he repeats his motion. To this point, he’s been very durable on the mound.
The Braves either attempted to tweak his mechanics or they were coming a bit out of whack as he was pitching out of a higher release point be season’s end. The silvering lining is if it was intentional, it may have helped Blair throw his best major league start on October 1 where he struck out ten compared to one walk.
Blair has a five-pitch mix beginning with both a four-seam and two-seam fastball. Each averaged out at about 91-92 mph with max-speed of about 94 mph. He gets good downward movement from the four-seamer, but struggles to throw the pitch consistently for strikes. He abandoned the two-seam fastball as the season progressed and in the final few months utilized it solely to keep lefties off balance. It helped generate some groundballs, but he also struggled to entice enough hitters to swing at it.
His breaking pitches, the curveball and slider, aren’t plus-plus pitches. The curve has little break from a 12-6 drop and averages about 77-79 mph. The slider was not used in the majors until he returned in August and was almost exclusively a weapon against right-handed batters. It averages around 80-81 mph and, like his curve, has not shown much bite.
Blair’s best pitch is his changeup, though like his curve, we rarely saw it over his final four starts. At 85-86 mph, there is only about a 6 mph difference from his fastball, but that appears to help it confuse batters. None of Blair’s pitches have better siwng-and-miss potential than his changeup, which is why it was confusing he abandoned it.
Grades from a 20-80 Scale…Velocity (55), Movement (55, Control (55)
Potential Grades…Velocity (55), Movement (60), Control (65)
Individual Pitch Grades…Four-Seam Fastball (55), Sinker (50), Curveball (50), Slider (45), Changeup (60)
Potential Individual Pitch Grades…Fastball (60), Sinker (55) Curveball (55), Slider (50), Changeup (65)
Other Grades…Holding Runners (60), Speed to the Plate (60)
Defensive Observations and Grades:
There’s not a lot of information related to Blair’s defense to this point. While he has a slow follow-through, his finish only takes him to the first base side slightly, which leaves him a bit vulnerable to balls to the third-base side of the mound. That said, he appears to field his position well.
Blair’s 2016 was pretty miserable and not only because his major league numbers underwhelmed. In the minors, he was getting pretty lit up (though his strikeout numbers were fine and his 3.38 FIP indicated future corrections). Worse, his control was as bad as it had ever been with walk rates 2% higher than normal. While he was able to get a number of swinging strikes, his ability to get ahead was very poor and he pitched far too often outside of the strikezone. Only 30% of the pitches he threw in the majors were with him ahead in the count – the average is 36%. Conversely, 22% of his pitches came with Blair behind compared to a 17% average.
These developments were a little new for Blair, who progressed through the minors as a strong strike-rate guy who’s sum of pitches is greater than any individual pitch. The Braves tweaked with Blair last year and he’ll likely return to Gwinnett in 2016 to continue to work on his issues. He still has some projection, but it’s limited to a durable middle-of-the-rotation arm similar to the player Gavin Floyd was expected to be. To get there, he’s going to have to hit his spots more frequently and use his changeup better.
Pre-Draft with Marshall (Baseball America)
2014 with Mobile, Arizona’s Double-A team (Fangraphs)
Major League debut (MLB.com)
Final start of 2016 (MLB.com)
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