Clayton Blackburn, a former top pitching prospect for the San Francisco Giants, has decided to hang up his cleats.
The San Francisco Giants selected Clayton Blackburn in the 2011 draft, and he quickly emerged as one of the team’s top pitching prospects, leading many to believe he could play a significant role upon reaching the majors.
The Giants selected Blackburn in the 16th round out of Edmond Santa Fe High School in Oklahoma. As a high school prospect, it was a minor surprise that the Giants were even able to agree to terms with him after selecting him that late in the draft.
The 6’3″ right-hander made his professional debut in 2011, and quickly put his name on the map. In 33.1 innings in rookie ball, Blackburn yielded only four earned runs while striking out 30 against only four walks.
His stock continued to climb from there, and by the start of the 2013 season, he was the No. 6 prospect in the San Francisco Giants farm system, according to Baseball America.
From 2012-2015, Blackburn made a stop at each minor league affiliate where he continued to flash his impressive future potential. In 2015, he posted a 2.85 ERA in 123 innings of work in his first season in Triple-A, winning the Pacific Coast League ERA title as a 22-year-old.
At that point, the expectation was that he would eventually become a major league pitcher and earn his way onto the starting rotation.
The first part of that statement came true:
Unfortunately, he never made it into a game before he was optioned back to Triple-A four days later.
Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area explained the circumstances:
"“Blackburn was called up May 12 the next year with the bullpen needing a fresh arm, but the four starters in that series — including Matt Cain and Jake Peavy, who were near the end of the line — ended up combining for 28 innings. Blackburn was optioned out before the next series as George Kontos came off the DL.”"
He spent the next two seasons in Triple-A and failed to match the success he showed during his stellar 2015 campaign. By 2017, the San Francisco Giants were facing a roster crunch, and Blackburn was traded to the Texas Rangers for minor league infielder Frandy de la Rosa
The Rangers seemed like a good landing spot for Blackburn and he was called up to the major league roster a few months later.
However, it was the same story as before. Despite being called up to the majors for three days this time around, Blackburn never made an appearance before returning to the minors.
Shortly after that second promotion, Blackburn underwent Tommy John surgery, which cost him the entire 2018 season. After enduring numerous setbacks on the rehab trail, he finally decided to hang it up earlier this month.
If this all sounds familiar, it is because a similar story was featured in the movie Field of Dreams.
In that film, a former player named Archibald “Moonlight” Graham talks about his experience getting called up and never recording an official at-bat. Graham did eventually get into a game as a defensive replacement, but he decided to retire after being optioned at the end of the 1905 season.
Clayton Blackburn came very close—twice—to doing something that only about 20,000 people have ever done. That is, register an official at-bat or pitching appearance in the major leagues. Baseball is hard, folks.