06/08/10 12:32 AM ET
ASU's top starter plucked by Cards
Blair, ace of NCAA's No. 1 team, follows Leake's path
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Blair already inherited some of Leake's titles. Like Leake the past two years, he is ASU's Friday-night starter, the No. 1 pitcher on the No. 1 team in the country. He was also recently honored as the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year, an honor Leake won in the previous two seasons. Now he's also a high selection of an NL Central team, having been picked 46th overall in the First-Year Player Draft by the Cardinals, as compensation for the free-agent departure of Mark DeRosa.
"I'm thrilled," Blair said. "I couldn't be more excited."
He has another little matter or two to tend to first, as ASU faces Arkansas next weekend in the super regional round of the NCAA baseball tournament. The winning team advances to the College World Series, and to make the matchup even tastier, Blair will be facing off against the player the Cardinals took before him, Razorbacks third baseman and No. 25 overall pick Zack Cox.
"Luckily for me, we get a chance to play his team this weekend," Blair said. "Hopefully our team comes out on top, but it's going to be a great opportunity to play Arkansas."
Blair has gone 12-0 for the Sun Devils so far in 2010, and the team is 15-1 when he starts. He struck out 98 against 22 walks in 97 innings, posting a 3.06 ERA. The Cardinals love his breaking stuff and have been impressed by the improvement on his fastball. Blair throws both a slider and a curveball.
"I saw Blair this summer [in the Cape Cod League]," said Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' vice president of scouting and player development. "He was a good pitcher. I went back again and saw him in May, and he's a better pitcher. ... We sat on him pretty good this year and feel like he's on a trajectory to continue to improve. He's got tremendous breaking stuff. And his fastball has gone from an average of 90-91 [mph], which I saw at the Cape, to now we're talking he touches mid-90s and sometimes upper 90s. So that's exciting, to get an arm like that."
As a bonus, the Cards view Blair as a signable player. While they expect that Cox and No. 50 selection Tyrell Jenkins could provide challenges in negotiations, they are confident that a deal with Blair could get done more quickly.
Blair said he's not thinking that far ahead, but he's still eager to test himself out in professional baseball. The challenge of pitching as the No. 1 man at ASU, combined with the experience of watching Leake, has left him optimistic about his chances.
"It's given me all the confidence in the world," Blair said. "It really has. To see Mike go out and do what he's done, it's just been amazing. I've been really close to him. I've stayed in touch with him throughout the season so far. And to see what he's done, it hasn't surprised me because he's definitely a great player. He knows how to pitch, and he's taught me a lot of different things that have helped me succeed this year as a pitcher for Arizona state, and hopefully he's going to teach me a little more this offseason."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.