Black's power arm fits well in Bucs' bullpen
No. 15 prospect in Pirates' system needs to work on control to be effective closer
It isn't always easy to project Minor League-to-Major League success. There are numerous variables that enter the equation.
Scouting Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Vic Black at the Triple-A All-Star Game just a week before his first big league callup, I saw a pitcher with an outstanding arm and an ability to retire hitters from the back end of the bullpen.
But control issues have been evident in his development.
Black, ranked No. 15 on the Pirates' Top 20 Prospects list, is a well-proportioned big man at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds. He can be an imposing figure on the mound.
Black played his college ball at Dallas Baptist University. Following high school, he chose to pitch in college rather than sign a contract with the New York Mets after being selected in the 41st round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
In the 2009 Draft, the Bucs used the last slot in the supplemental portion of the first round to choose Black.
Black signed a contract and began his career with State College. He pitched in 13 games, starting seven of those. Black threw 31 1/3 innings, giving up 26 hits and striking out an average of 9.5 hitters per nine innings. He also walked an average of more than four hitters per game.
The following year, Black had an injured shoulder and missed almost the entire season. He has also experienced biceps tendinitis in his career.
Black has an electric fastball that he can throw at 98 mph. He gets sink on the pitch and can use it to set up a very good, very nasty slider. Mixing those two pitches, Black misses bats or gets ground balls with consistency.
Probably because of the combination of his high-velocity fastball and wicked slider, prior to the 2011 season, Pittsburgh elected to convert Black exclusively to a reliever.
Based upon my observations, Black is an ideal candidate to assume the Pirates' setup or closer's role -- if he can command those two pitches. Command and control will dictate his future.
Working from the bullpen, Black pitched at Class A West Virginia and Class A Advanced Bradenton in 2011. The strikeouts and walk rates continued.
The 2012 season told a different story. Black increased his already high strikeout average to 12.8 per nine innings and reduced his walk rate. He registered 13 saves.
This season, Black has been pitching at Triple-A Indianapolis with very similar results.
Black's motion can get a bit aggressive and almost wild at times. I wouldn't call him violent, but his big body has to move in sync for him to be effective. Repeating his delivery and "finishing" his pitches by keeping his shoulder straight to the plate are keys to success regarding his control.
Black's power arm is prototypical of a late-inning reliever. His two-pitch mix is all he will need to pitch an inning at the back end of the game.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.