Editor's note: Over the next few weeks, NBC Sports California will be analyzing a different A's player each day to project their numbers for next season.
Back in 2012, pitcher Paul Blackburn was a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs. Now, nearly seven years later, he will try to remain in the A's starting rotation for a full season.
Blackburn, 25, is coming off a forearm injury but should be 100 percent for the start of spring training. The Antioch native struggled in limited action last season, going 2-3 with a 7.16 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in six starts. However, Blackburn performed much better in 2016, going 3-1 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 10 starts.
The right-hander will have a great chance to begin the season in Oakland's starting rotation. If he pitches well, he could stay there all year.
Blackburn features a fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. He doesn't have a high swing-and-miss rate, but he has solid command and tends to induce a lot of groundballs.
Baseball Reference projects Blackburn to go 5-4 next season with a 4.28 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, along with 63 strikeouts and 25 walks in 80 innings.
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The A's will likely have to rely on Blackburn during the first half of the season, as fellow starters Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, and A.J. Puk all recover from injuries. MLB.com's Jane Lee reported Friday that the A's have agreed to a deal with Marco Estrada, which should help the A's rotation depth.
Regardless, if Blackburn can stay healthy and revert to his 2016 form, he could prove extremely valuable.
We don't expect Blackburn to remain in the starting rotation all season, but we do think he will get his share of opportunities. As we saw last year, starting pitching depth is critical and Blackburn should provide that for Oakland.
Projection: 4-4, 4.11 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 57 K, 23 BB, 78 IP