Athletics

Healthy Paul Blackburn ready to prove he belongs in A's starting rotation

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Healthy Paul Blackburn ready to prove he belongs in A's starting rotation

OAKLAND - After a strong 2017 season, Paul Blackburn struggled with both injuries and poor performance last year.

The A's right-hander went 2-3 with a 7.16 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in six starts and missed the final three months with an elbow injury.

Now just days away from spring training, Blackburn is fully healthy and ready to prove he belongs in the A's starting rotation.

"I've never really lost confidence in myself," Blackburn said to NBC Sports California. "I know last year I struggled at points, probably the worst I've ever struggled in pro ball. It's never gotten to that point where I didn't believe in myself. I think just believing in yourself can go a long way."

Blackburn, 25, was a first-round draft pick of the Cubs in 2012. The Antioch native hasn't yet lived up to his potential, but he will have a great chance to earn a spot in Oakland's rotation to start the season.

"I feel good," Blackburn said. "I've been cleared for spring training and everything. I've gotten off the mound three times now and everything is feeling good, back to normal."

Blackburn doesn't have dominant stuff and relies on movement and location to retire hitters. Perhaps more importantly, he believes he has improved his preparation this offseason, which could allow him to take his game to another level.

"Just kind of going a little deeper into scouting reports," he explained. "You can find those little things where you've struggled and see what you can do differently and then build off that. I think that's what will lead to success and kind of getting to that next step."

[RELATED: Paul Blackburn should provide solid pitching depth]

As it currently stands, Blackburn will likely slot in as the A's No. 4 or 5 starter. However, that position could be in jeopardy when injured pitchers Jharel Cotton, Sean Manaea, and possibly A.J. Puk return. Blackburn knows he has to perform well early if he wants to remain in the rotation all year.

"I want to make every start," he said. "That's really the number one goal I have for myself. Be a guy who, when my spot comes up in the rotation, they know I'm going to pitch that day. I want to be that guy who's able to do that."

Source: Free agent second baseman Eric Sogard interested in A's return

Source: Free agent second baseman Eric Sogard interested in A's return

Having a lefty bat at the second base position continues to be one of the A's main focuses this offseason

That could mean reuniting with Eric Sogard. A source tells NBC Sports California the 34-year-old is open to returning to Oakland.

Sogard, currently a free agent, had an exceptional campaign in 2019 slashing .290/.353/.457 with13 homers across 110 games with the Blue Jays and the Rays. He was part of the Tampa Bay squad that came to the AL Wild-Card Game and celebrated in the visitors' clubhouse.

A's fans remember the outcome of that. 

The second baseman spent six seasons with the A's from 2010-15 where he accumulated a .239 average with eight home runs and 105 RBI. 

The A's lost second baseman Jurickson Profar in a trade with the Padres on Dec. 2.

Despite picking up a talented second baseman during Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, the team will still seek a more prominent starter at the position. 

[RELATED: A's are focused on keeping young stars]

It was reported recently, the A's were interested in bringing current Mets second baseman Jed Lowrie back for the third time -- but there are 10 million reasons as to why the Mets wouldn't make a trade.

Did we mention Sogard bats left-handed yet?

2019 MLB Rule 5 Draft: A's lose Mark Payton, acquire minor leaguers

2019 MLB Rule 5 Draft: A's lose Mark Payton, acquire minor leaguers

As teams headed down south to the Winter Meetings in San Diego, the two main goals for the A's appeared to be finding a left-handed bat at second base, as well as continuing conversations with relief pitchers.

While the A's didn't make any huge acquisitions during the meetings, the 2019 Rule 5 Draft came and went as it does every year. With that, Oakland selected three players in the minor-league phase of the draft and had a couple more transactions as well.

Second baseman Vimael Machin was acquired from the Phillies for cash considerations. He will be competing for a roster spot.

The 26-year-old slashed .295/.390/.412 with seven home runs and 65 RBI across the Double and Triple-A teams in the Chicago Cubs organization last season. 

Jason Krizan was selected from the Mets during the Triple-A phase. The 30-year-old outfielder hit .275 across two teams last season. 

The Athletic's prospect writer Emily Waldon says he's going to be a solid addition to the A's organization.

"His walk rate has always been impressive," Waldon told NBC Sports California. "He doesn't have a ton of swing and misses, with some raw power, with eight to ten home run seasons. He's also a dependable defender with a good veteran presence." Waldon also joked Krizan has "80-grade sarcasm."

The A's also selected catcher Jose Colina, who put up some massive numbers with the Arizona League Indians Blue after signing with Cleveland as a minor-league free agent in June. The 21-year-old slashed .372/.443/.744 with eight homers and 20 RBI.

Right-handed pitcher Deivy Mendez rounds the group out. In 25 appearances across Single-A and Short-A last season with the Padres organization, he went 2-1 with six saves and a 4.20 ERA, striking out 33. 

[RELATED: A's interested in acquiring Lowrie for third time]

The Cincinnati Reds selected outfielder Mark Payton, who was claimed off waivers by the A's in December of 2018. Payton was selected during the major league phase of the draft which, according to Waldon, has the A's losing some muscle at the plate.

However, scouts reportedly didn't see the 28-year-old "doing a great deal outside of filling some needs." That power is what has gotten the most talk around Payton. 

Payton took advantage of the PCL last season with Triple-A Las Vegas and slashed .334/.400/.653 with 30 home runs and 97 RBI in 118 games.