Vic Black served as the interim closer last night for the Mets, doing so because Bobby Parnell is injured, Frank Francisco is apparently in the witness protection program, and LaTroy Hawkins was unavailable. He managed to save his first game on Tuesday against the Reds, and he may yet get more chances over the final few days of the season against Milwaukee, but even if not, he’s apparently in the mix for 2014, especially with Parnell’s health after neck surgery still uncertain — and that makes him interesting.
What also makes Black interesting is when you see quotes like this from the ageless Hawkins, who has seen just about everything there is to see over his approximately 73 years in the big leagues:
“Some guys have late life on the ball,” the 40-year-old Mets reliever Hawkins said. “Sometimes I play catch with him and he has, like, double life. The ball comes out of his hand and it picks up speed halfway and hits up another gear. It’s weird. It’s something I’ve never seen. That’s why I said he has a magical arm. I told him he has a magical arm.”
Maybe that’s just hyperbole from a veteran looking to pump up the ego of an untested young player, but when you hear a player like Hawkins suggest that he’s seeing “something I’ve never seen” before, it’s enough to make you take a closer look.
So who is Vic Black? Other than having a name that sounds like he should have been pitching to Ernie Banks and Duke Snider in the 1950s, Black is a 25-year-old righty who was taken by Pittsburgh out of a Texas college in the first round in 2009. (Sort of, if you still consider being the 49th overall pick “first round”.) In parts of five seasons in the Pirates organization, he racked up impressive strikeout numbers while also collecting a fair share of concern about his command, with a 4.5 BB/9 mark overall.
Between 2012 (in Double-A) and 2013 (in Triple-A), Black struck out 148 in 106.2 innings, walking 50, then was traded to the Mets — who had drafted him out of high school in 2006 — in late August to complete the Marlon Byrd deal.
As you might expect, Black survives on pure filthy heat, and a whole lot of it, averaging 95.6 MPH on a fastball that he throws about three-quarters of the time. He only occasionally mixes in the curveball, but interestingly enough, 8 of his 14 strikeouts have come on that pitch.
Just look at some of what he did in getting that save against the Reds, striking out both Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier. Black pumped in fastball after fastball, showing some sinking motion while mainly generating a bunch of foul balls. But when he mixed in the curve (or slider; there’s some disagreement on what to actually categorize it as), that’s when the strikeouts came:
It’s definitely a pitch with some movement on it, enough so that his catcher couldn’t actually corral it either time, and there’s promise there — though one would think that major league hitters won’t have all that much trouble distinguishing between a flaming heater and an in-the-dirt breaking pitch if that’s all Black has to offer.
Still, a strong fastball and a potentially plus secondary pitch will get you pretty far as a one-inning reliever, so all Black needs is opportunity — and he might just get that in New York next year. Fantasy-wise, he’s not a keeper unless you’re in the deepest of NL-only leagues, and probably not even then. Unless he’s simply anointed the closer this winter, which doesn’t seem likely, Black is probably available for a dollar or two or on the waiver wire next spring. Still, he’s a name to file away, because he already seems to be someone that Terry Collins is finding trust in.