One of the most interesting prospects in the lower levels, outside of the consensus top guys, is Victor Black. The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Black with a compensation pick in 2009, getting that compensation for failing to sign Tanner Scheppers the year before. Black was rated the #50 overall prospect in the draft, and was taken with the 49th overall pick. He had the projection of a future late innings reliever in the majors, due to his ability to throw 92-94 MPH, topping out at 96.
Black was seen as a guy who could rise quickly through the minor league system. Instead, he’s been held back by injuries. After pitching 31.1 innings in State College in 2009, Black was slated to move up to West Virginia in 2010. He made two starts, pitching 4.2 innings, but was limited due to a shoulder injury, and a biceps injury that developed from his shoulder injury. He’s returned to low-A this year, where he currently has a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings after last night. All of the damage came in the second inning.
“He just need to go out and get outings, and build on his outings,” West Virginia manager Gary Robinson said, following last night’s game. “Because I see tonight as a very positive outing for him. And because of the way he rebounded, particularly the first inning. Good angle, good plane, fastball was down, pretty much pitched with it.”
Black looked great in the first inning, consistently working in the 91-93 MPH range, driving his fastball down in the zone, and most importantly, pitching inside to both left and right handers. He was pitching on one day of rest, which Robinson described as a test for him. The right hander had previously gone 2-3 days between outings, with most of his recent outings being single innings. Along with the reduced rest, Black was given more pitches.
“We pushed him past his normal pitch limit, to get him out of his comfort zone, and I think that it’s going to take some time before he can go out and repeat that again for a second inning,” Robinson said of Black’s fastball command struggling in the second.
The big question is, when will Victor Black start moving up the ladder? On one hand, the lost year hurts, since it puts Black behind schedule. He’s 23 years old, and should be in high-A or AA at this point. Instead, he’s in low-A, going 1-2 innings at a time. On the other hand, he hasn’t pitched that much, due to his injuries. The plan was to have him work in low-A in 2010. His injury prevented that. Now he’s at his 2010 level, only one year later. Do the Pirates alter his development because he missed a year? That doesn’t seem like the best interests for any player.
Black profiles as a reliever, and there shouldn’t be a rush to get him to the majors. Even with a conservative timeline, he should have plenty of time. On a conservative timeline, he could reach Bradenton by the end of the year, then split between high-A and AA in 2012. That leaves open a AAA/majors route in 2013. Obviously when you take a college pitcher with the 49th overall pick, you expect him to arrive sooner than four years later. However, that timeline isn’t unheard of. It’s the same timeline to the majors that Daniel Moskos and Tony Watson took.
The important thing for Black is to stay healthy, and get himself built up. He could still be a candidate to rise quickly through the upper levels, but not at this point. Right now he has 51 career innings as a pro between three seasons, and he’s working on getting to the point where he can pitch effectively for two innings on a days rest. Until he can get that basic relief responsibility down, he will most likely remain on the slow and steady pace.