Pat Blair isn't a name you hear a lot when it comes to the draft. Standing a generous 5'10", 180 lbs., the senior shortstop out of Wake Forest - nephew of former Rangers farmhand Martin Blair - is hitting just .277 to this point in his senior season. Certainly, he's got some intriguing numbers, like his 17 steals in 19 attempts. He's got a solid glove, a plus arm, and good instincts at shortstop, though he's not likely to ever become a Gold Glove candidate, even if he does stick at the position.
So why did the Houston Astros spend their 24th-round pick in 2012 on him? Because Pat Blair has an elite tool.
If you look through the NCAA Division I leader boards, you'll see Blair's name right where it always seems to be: He is currently ranked number three in the nation in walks and walks per game. And it's not a fluke - this is his third straight season in the top 30 in those two categories.
He's no slouch with the bat, either, mind you. For his career at Wake Forest, he has a .275/.400/.403 slash line. When adjusted for park and schedule, College Splits lists his 2013 line as .315/.503/.423, with a .432 wOBA. Not bad for a middle infielder.
But what Pat Blair does better than almost anyone else in the country is draw walks. Unlike Kris Bryant, who has drawn one more walk than Blair this season, no one's pitching around Blair. He's earning every one of his walks.
Update: Sure enough, Blair finished the season 3rd in walks, with 57 of them over 55 games. He finished second in walks-per-game; just 0.03/game behind Kris Bryant. Unlike Bryant, his weren't propped up by intentional walks. His overall numbers increased, also. He finished the season .283/.459/.424 (.293/.473/.440 adjusted for park & schedule).
Blair's walk tool is great, but as tools go, it's not the most useful one that a player can have. Blair could end up as a utility infielder - I think of him as sort of a Robert Andino type: Someone who can play a few different positions, draw a couple walks, and play reasonable defense. This isn't a bad thing. These are the types of guys, like Ronny Cedeno, who can hang around a long time despite never being household names.
The guy I keep coming back to is Cliff Pennington. Cliff Pennington is never going to be a superstar, but he plays a good middle infield, draws walks, and hits just enough to keep finding work as a major league starting shortstop. He's also about Blair's size, but that's neither here nor there.
Projected Draft Round
Houston drafted Blair in the 24th round in 2012, and he should go a little higher this year after finishing his third straight season in the top 30 in walks - and probably in the top five. He's someone who could likely be taken somewhere between the 10th and 15th rounds.
Update: 10-15 is still probably pretty accurate for Blair, although he may end up in the first half of that, rather than the last half. For a team chasing an "easy sign senior," he could be at the top of the list for having a clearly-demonstrated, repeatable, elite skill. He has a well-established floor, which a lot of seniors lack.
Will He Sign?
In this interview, Blair talks about his decision to return to Wake Forest: The money wasn't right, and he didn't want to give up his senior year. Going in a higher round will increase the money, and there's no other draw for him that in any way parallels his senior year at Wake Forest. There's no reason to think that he wouldn't consent to be re-drafted, or that he wouldn't sign with Houston if he was.