Since Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker moved up to the Twins, one would think that Matt Garza would be the top Rochester starter. However, Brian Duensing has been making better starts since he joined the Wings a few weeks ago. Yet, Nick Blackburn is another pitcher who recently moved up to AAA and has put up better numbers than any pitcher at Rochester not named Slowey.
Blackburn is a Texas native who was a 29th round pick in the 2001 draft out of Seminole State Junior College. Nick has been a solid starter in the system moving all the way from Ft. Myers to pitching a few games in AAA in 2005. Last season, he pitched well for New Britain, making 19 starts in 30 appearances with a 7-8 record with a 4.42 era in 132.1 innings with 81 strikeouts and 37 walks.
Because of all the top prospects who began this season in the Red Wing rotation, Blackburn began this season back at New Britain where he had an excellent 3-1 record with a 3.08 era in 8 games (7 starts). In 38.0 innings he had 18 strikeouts and 7 walks before getting the call to join the Red Wings in mid-May.
This week Nick made two starts for the Wings, winning 4-1 on Sunday and 3-0 in a 9-inning complete game shutout against Indianapolis (the team with the best record in the league) last Friday night. For the week, Blackburn pitched 17.0 innings with 8 hits, 1 unearned run, 10 strikeouts and 0 walks…dropping his era in AAA from 4.91 to 2.55.
Nick’s performance this week is certainly worthy of Player of the Week recognition. Yet, another player had such an unbelievable week that he also needs to be considered, thus, our Co-Player of the Week is New Britain infielder Luke Hughes.
Hughes is a Perth, Australia native who was signed by the Twins in July, 2002. He has slowly moved up the ladder since beginning with the GCL Twins in 2002 where he hit for a .305 Average. He again hit well at Elizabethton in 2003, finishing with a .284 Average and being named as a post-season All-Star. Luke has spent the past two seasons at Beloit and Ft. Myers where he has had reduced playing time as his batting average slipped.
This season Matt moved up to AA where he has again been used as a utility infielder, appearing in only 25 of their 48 games prior to this week. This week Luke got into 4 games, getting multiple hits in each game including a 4 for 4 night on Thursday and 3 for 3 with a walk on Friday. His 12 hits in 14 at bats (.857 Average) raised his average to .351. He also scored 6 runs this week with 5 doubles, a home run and 4 rbi.
The interesting question will be which player will Jim Rantz choose as the Twins Player of the Week?
Editor’s Note: As of press time, Nick Blackburn was named Twins Minor League Player of the Week.