AJ Blubaugh was a self-described “project pitcher” when he first stepped foot on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus in fall 2019. Milwaukee was the lone Division I college baseball offer Blubaugh received during his prep career in Ohio.
Blubaugh wasn’t the typical college prospect. In the fall season of his freshman year, Blubaugh weighed 150 pounds and threw from three different arm slots. But Blubaugh dedicated himself to improving his craft and made steady progress in his three years at Milwaukee.
After earning Horizon League Relief Pitcher of the Year for the second consecutive year this spring, Blubaugh threw 9 1/3 scoreless innings in the Cape Cod League over the last month.
Blubaugh is now on the radar of professional scouts after the success and development he exhibited the last three years. Scouts project Blubaugh as a top-10-round pick in the 2022 MLB draft, which occurs July 17-19.
“After my last outing (in the Cape Cod League), it hit me,” Blubaugh said. “I know I have done everything I can up until this point. Whatever happens, happens. God has a plan for me. It feels nice knowing I put in the work to get to this point. It feels good.”
Blubaugh is an intriguing pitcher with plenty of upside remaining. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander throws a four-seam fastball, curveball, slider and changeup from an over-the-top arm slot.
His best pitch is his mid-90s fastball. It is a high-usage pitch that features vertical break and generates plenty of swings and misses. He is athletic and has room to add more velocity as he matures physically.
Blubaugh pairs his fastball with three off-speed pitches. His top secondary pitch is his changeup. He tunnels it off his fastball and primarily throws it against left-handed hitters.
He also mixes in his 12-to-6 curveball. It’s a change-of-pace pitch, sitting 73-75 mph, and he uses it to get ahead of hitters or to catch them off guard later in counts. Blubaugh has worked on his slider throughout college. He is confident in the breaking pitch, and it serves as a put-away offering.
This spring, Blubaugh split time between the starting rotation and bullpen. He eventually moved exclusively to the closer role midway through Milwaukee’s season.
Scouts are split on Blubaugh’s long-term role. He is comfortable in either spot but embraces the responsibility of pitching in high-leverage, late-inning situations.
“I am willing to do either,” Blubaugh said. “Right now, I really enjoy closing and the pressure that comes with it. Starting is a whole different mentality and approach to the game.”
Blubaugh recently finished pitching in the Cape Cod League. He tallied four saves and 13 strikeouts while allowing zero runs, two hits and zero walks in 9 1/3 innings.
Blubaugh has two years of college eligibility remaining after recording a 3.96 ERA with 92 strikeouts and 33 walks allowed in 84 innings the last three years at Milwaukee. But he appears destined to start a pro career this summer.
As he awaits the draft, Blubaugh is grateful for the individuals who have helped him get to this point in his career.
“My family, friends, coaches, teammates and academic advisors have played a role in my life,” Blubaugh said. “If everyone single one of those people didn’t impact me, I would not be where I am right now. I’m thankful for all of them.”
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Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.