Prospect Spotlight: RHP Vic Black

vic black tradeAccording to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Mets and Pirates have agreed on Vic Black as the player to be named late in the trade that sent Marlon Byrd and John Buck to the Pirates. The Mets sent cash to Pittsburgh as well in exchange for Dilson Herrera,who we profiled yesterday, and Black, who will either join the team once he clears waivers tomorrow or after the season if he is claimed by another team.

Black, 25, is a right-handed relief pitcher currently pitching for Triple-A Indianapolis as their closer. Black was originally drafted by the New York Mets in the 41st round of the 2006 draft, but did not sign.

Three years later, the Pirates selected him 49th overall. He got his first taste as a closer last season with Altoona in the Eastern League, where he finished 38 games (including 13 saves), while posting a 1.65 ERA in 60 innings. Even more impressive were his 85 strikeouts (12.8 K/9). This season in 46.2 innings, he has a 2.51 ERA with 63 strikeouts and 17 saves.

Black is a highly-regarded prospect in the Pirates organization, ranked 16th by Jonathan Mayo of, 18th by Pirates Prospects, and 15th by John Sickels of Minor League Ball. He has an electric fastball that has been clocked at times over 100 miles per hour and a slider that can touch 90 on the gun.

Two top 15 prospects is quite a haul for one month of Byrd and Buck. Pirates GM Neal Huntington did say the PTBNL wasn’t a no-name prospect, but it’s a bit of a surprise to see a prospect of just about equal value as Herrera to be thrown in the deal as well. Nice work by the Mets front office.

Career Stats

What the experts say…

Jonathan Mayo:

Scouting Grades* (present/future): Fastball: 6/7 | Slider: 4/5 | Control: 3/5 | Overall: 4/5

The Pirates knew Black had tremendous arm strength. That is, after all, why they drafted him out of Dallas Baptist in the first place. But the right-hander had trouble staying healthy at first, missing nearly all of his first full season and not getting a lot of mound time in 2011. Moved to the bullpen that year, Black really took off with the push to Double-A in 2012, where he struck out 12.75 per nine innings. His fastball can be plus, into the mid-90s with sink, and he combines it with a hard slider that could be a Major League average pitch. Black’s control, however, hasn’t been as solid. Though his walk rate did drop in 2012, he had trouble throwing strikes during his Arizona Fall League stint. If Black can find the strike zone with more consistency, he has the stuff to pitch out of the back end of the bullpen.

John Sickels:

Unlike many minor league closers, Black does not want for stuff: he has one of the best fastballs in the system, clocked as high as 101 MPH in the minors; he hit 98 during his major league trial and averaged 95. A supplemental first round pick in 2009 out of Dallas Baptist, he struggled with control problems, a substandard change-up, and persistent arm trouble early in his career and at one point looked like a bust.

He revived his career by converting to relief, posting an excellent 1.65 ERA with an 85/29 K/BB in 60 innings with 13 saves last year in Double-A, followed by consistent success this year. He’s had fewer problems throwing strikes and staying healthy with relief use, doesn’t have to worry about the change-up, and can just come in and blow people away for an inning or two with his fastball and a slider that can touch 90.

MLB Prospect Watch

Black has the velocity you simply can’t teach, consistently sitting in the upper 90’s with the ability to reach triple-digits.  That alone makes him an intriguing prospect.  Serving as a closer in Triple-A, Black struck out 12 batters per nine innings for the second straight year (having also done it in 2012 in Double-A) and lowered his walk rate to a career low.  Unfortunately, that career low is still 4.0 BB/9, which is the Achilles heel of Black’s game.

The past two years, Black has been extremely effective in each of the minor league’s highest two levels.  He’s already 25-years-old, so he’s ready for a test in the majors, and if the Pirates major league bullpen hadn’t been as good as it was all season, he likely would have already gotten it.

Vic Black, on himself in Q&A with Fangraphs in May:

On his two-pitch repertoire and velocity: “I feel I have two pretty good options. I can go fastball and I can go slider, and that shortens my thought process. As a short-inning reliever, I don’t want to start thinking about too many ways to get a guy out.

“In my last outing, against Buffalo, I was 97-99 [mph].

“The velocity is coming earlier this year. When you saw me in Portland last year, it was toward the end of the season and that’s when I was starting to throw that hard consistently. Throwing hard this early tells me my mechanics and timing are becoming more sound.”

Black could join the Mets’ bullpen this season if he clears waivers.

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About Connor O'Brien 336 Articles
Connor O'Brien is a third-year economics student at Rutgers University, a longtime writer here at MetsMerized Online, and an aspiring economist. He embraces sabermetrics but also highly values scouting. Follow him on Twitter at cojobrien.