Seth Blair's first 2 years in professional baseball have not gone according to plan. But, last fall Blair took a big step in the right direction.
The 2010 first-round selection and 2007 Rock Falls High School graduate struggled through his first pro season 2 years ago. Last season, he was only able to pitch in seven games due to having surgery to remove a tumor on the middle finger of his right/pitching hand.
Blair, who the St. Louis Cardinals made the 46th overall selection after a standout career at Arizona State University, redeemed himself in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.
In Arizona, Blair went 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in six starts. That was apparently enough to convince the Cardinals' brass to send the 24-year-old to Double-A Springfield (Mo.).
"It gave me a lot of confidence to go out there and pitch really well, especially against elite competition," Blair said of his fall league performance. "I had to prove myself because I hadn't done anything yet in pro ball."
He's already made two starts for Springfield, going 0-1 with an 11.25 ERA in eight innings of work.
"I was a little bit surprised," Blair said of his Double-A assignment. "I thought I would go back to the Florida State League, because I hadn't proved myself there yet."
In his pro debut campaign, Blair went 6-3 at low-A Quad Cities with a 5.29 ERA in 21 starts. He was unable to consistently throw strikes, as he walked 62 batters, had 14 hit batsmen and 11 wild pitches in 81 2/3 innings.
Last season, he was unable to pitch until late in the season due to the tumor. In his seven appearances, six of them starts, between the rookie Gulf Coast League Cardinals and high-A Palm Beach, he was 1-3 with a 4.58 ERA.
Was there ever a doubt that he would overcome?
"None," Blair said firmly. "I put a lot of pressure on myself starting in low-A. I wanted to move up faster. When I didn't do well, I put even more pressure on myself. Going through that made me stronger."
Blair has enjoyed his early taste of Double-A ball, touting the level of play and how much better the players are treated, as well as the food, bigger cities and nicer places to stay.
He's not getting too carried away, however.
"It's still the minor leagues," he said. "Nobody in the minor leagues should feel big-time."
The tumor is a relative non-issue. Blair said he still has numbness where the incision was, but has feeling in his fingertips. Before surgery, he could not throw.
Blair's pitch repertoire includes two fastballs, a two-seam sinker and a four-seamer, a changeup and a breaking ball, which he calls a hybrid between a curveball and slider.
"It has curveball action but slider speed," he said.
Blair said that his velocity is generally between 91 and 94 mph, and that he tops out at 96 or 97.
After not batting in his previous pro seasons, Blair is back in the batter's box this season. He's 0-for-2 but has walked and scored a run.
His next start will be at 6:10 p.m. Saturday at Arkansas.
By the numbers
2011: 6-3, 5.29 ERA, 21 starts, 81 2/3 innings
2012: 1-3, 4.58 ERA, 7 games, 6 starts, 19 2/3 innings
2013: 0-1, 11.25 ERA, 2 starts, 8 innings