Vic Black. Good dude.
Black was drafted by the Pirates in the first round of the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft with the 49th overall pick. The Pirates were able to take him as a supplemental pick, because they were not able to sign Tanner Scheppers in the 2008 Draft.
He signed and reported to State College in June of 2009, making seven starts in the New York-Penn League. He went to West Virginia the following year and was only able to make two starts due to shoulder and bicep injuries. Due to his injuries and the plethora or pitching prospects coming through the system, the Pirates moved Black to the bullpen in 2010. They wanted to be able to utilize his strong arm and plus frame in a shutdown bullpen role while also limiting his action due to the injury concerns.
He only saw action in five games in Bradenton before being pushed hard to Double-A Altoona in 2012. The aggressive push ended up being great for Black, as he was one of four players from Altoona to make the 2012 Eastern League All Star team. Black’s time in Altoona ended up being the year to turn his career around.
“It was phenomenal,” Black said talking about his time in Altoona. “My time [in Altoona] was one of the best summers of my life. The guys I was with, the coaching staff, everything…this was one of the summers I will always remember most.”
In 2013, Black made his way to Indianapolis and had 17 saves with a 2.51 ERA, eventually being called up to Pittsburgh because of the injury to Jason Grilli that summer. It was on a road trip to Toledo with Indianapolis after being sent back down that he learned that he was being traded to the Mets as the PTBNL, along with Dilson Herrera, in the Marlon Byrd deal.
“I had no idea,” Black said about having any suspicion about being involved in the trade. “I was called by my agent the day before, and he mentioned to me that there was a big trade with a PTBNL, and if he heard anything, he’d let me know. I wasn’t too concerned about it. Little did I know that five hours later, my phone was blowing up because of Twitter. It wasn’t until the next day that it was released.”
The trade happened five days earlier, with Herrera heading to New York and Marlon Byrd making his way to Pittsburgh. How could anyone forget Byrd arriving in Pittsburgh for the Bucs’ August 28th game against the Brewers and launching a ball deep into the center field bushes? Many would say that Byrd’s arrival was that last piece the Pirates needed to push over the top and finally end the 20-year winning season drought. Ultimately, Marlon Byrd would be a key piece to not only ending the drought but also the Wild Card victory against Johnny C-U-E-T-O and the Reds.
The difficult part about acquiring a good player is sending players that you really like the other way.
When we continue to look at the players within the Pirates system, we sometimes forget that there is a strong possibility of a player never making it to the big leagues or being traded, no matter how much we like said player. It is also extremely hard for the players to understand that baseball isn’t only a game…it’s a business.
Black said being traded was an extremely difficult concept to grasp.
“At first, and it is still the same type of feeling, the Pirates were my team,” Black said. “They were my initial team. When you get drafted by a team, you feel like you are going to play for them forever. All of that immediately gets taken away from you.”
The Indianapolis game that night ended with a 1-0 score with the Indians on top. Vic Black went through all of his pre-outing stretching and warm-up, only to be told of the trade and watch fellow teammate Duke Welker go out for the save in the ninth. It was a difficult thing for him to wrap his head around.
“They are your first family. To get that cut off is kind of different, but I’m always rooting for those guys.”
Black was soon able to grasp the thought of going to New York. Rather than report to the Mets’ Triple-A team in Las Vegas, he went straight to the Mets where he made 15 appearances with a 3.46 ERA. The future was bright in New York.
“Nothing shines brighter than New York.”
After being able to reflect on what happened that year with the trade, Black realized that he wasn’t going to be able to be the back of the bullpen guy that he desired to be with the Pirates after they signed Melancon and Grilli. It was frustrating to him. Now, he finds himself as an essential piece of the Mets’ bullpen as a set-up man.
“I like do-or-die situations. I embrace it.”
With Vic Black being a successful story for both the Pirates and the Mets, I asked him on the differences between the Pirates and Mets pitching philosophies. He mentioned how he didn’t have to change anything he was used to when he went to the Mets since he was going straight to the big league club. He did talk about what the Pirates preached to him throughout his stay in their system.
“Dominant pitching and command,” Black said. “The Pirates want to see you control and command your fastball. They want you to throw your fastball and beat the other team with it until they can prove they can hit it. After that, work your breaking ball in.”
This methodology has recently been confirmed to me, learning of goals that the Pirates minor league pitching staff has set for their starting pitchers to continue to work their fastball low in the zone and get a certain number of groundouts every game. For example, Jason Creasy’s recent goal was the get at least eight groundouts in his outings.
So, who got the better end of the Byrd/Black/Herrera deal?
“Of course I think long-term we got the better deal,” Black said with a smile. “Honestly though, it helped the Pirates out. They were able to break the streak.”
“Those were guys I was brought up with, and I got to know them really well. I, of course, think [the Mets] got the better end of the deal since we got Herrera, too, and I hope to be a part of the bullpen for a long time. At the time, that’s how trades work. The Pirates were trying to break the streak, and I feel I was a part of that.”
Sometimes you have to give up something really good to get another thing even better. In this case, the Pirates lost a couple good prospects that could be really good for a while; however, I think ending the streak and making a playoff run was a pretty good return.