Cove Chatter Top 2016 Prospects: #13

Ray Black

San Francisco Giants Top 2016 Prospects: #13

#13: Ray Black, RHP, Age 25: Those who “know” say you aren’t supposed to give relief-only prospects high rankings, but there was absolutely no way I was leaving Black out of my top 15. He just has too much wow factor for me to ignore.

Most people in these circles know Black’s story pretty well at this point, but the rest of the baseball world might soon start becoming familiar with him too. Alex Pavlovic outlined the righty’s extensive injury history (TJ surgery, broken throwing hand, torn labrum, went completely M.I.A. for two seasons after the Giants drafted him from Pitt) in a piece from last spring.

Black has a true (and incredibly rare) 80-grade fastball. When he’s on the mound, he averages 99 mph. He touched 104 in the AFL just a few months ago. That’s Aroldis Chapman territory, and it’s so incredibly hard not to dream of him overpowering hitters on the AT&T Park mound with that kind of heat. David Lee watched him extensively a couple years ago in Augusta, and had great things to say about his slider. I’ve kept those reports in the back of my mind… he’s not a one-pitch guy, and that’s an important detail for a relief prospect.

What’s holding Black back at this point? Well, he’s never pitched on back to back days in the minors (hopefully he does this season). He also had some pretty significant command problems last year, walking exactly one batter per inning in San Jose, then 6 more in 9 innings of AFL action. But he had 67 K’s in only 34 IP in 2015, so there’s your upside. The Giants certainly have a nice list of potential long term closer candidates post-Santiago Casilla, but they don’t have one guy they’re saving the job for at this point. If Black can avoid anymore serious injury setbacks and improve his command, he could well be one of the most electric 9th inning arms in baseball one day. At the least, I think he could be helping the MLB bullpen at some point this season.


8 thoughts on “Cove Chatter Top 2016 Prospects: #13”

  1. Black-I think the second year back,he starts to find his mechanics.He flies open sometimes.That’s easy to fix though.That’s just a guy who’s a little excited.He’ll settle in this year.Once he learns to trust his stuff,he can really take off.He didn’t pitch back to back games.But,he started a few.They weren’t traditional starts,I don’t believe any went past 4 IP.I think he starts in AA Richmond.If Black,and Crick can find the zone on a consistent basis.The Giants have two impact arms,to add to an already deep 25 man roster.

  2. I think people just don’t realize the power of the bullpen, to paraphrase Darth Vader.

    Tom Tippett showed about a dozen years ago that a good bullpen was necessary to doing well in the playoffs (apparently Beane never got the saber alert on that one, only recently started to emphasize the bullpen). BP’s study of the playoffs (about why Beane’s “stuff” don’t work in the playoffs) found that you needed a strong K/9 from both SP and RP, showing again the need for a strong bullpen. Yet, the saber viewpoint is still that relievers are fungible and easily replaced. I still don’t understand that.

    It don’t help that the standard WAR calculations for RP only looks solely at their performance, and not in the context of when it is happening in the game. A strikeout with a 3 run lead and no one on base and two outs is just not as valuable as a strikeout with a one run lead and the bases loaded and no outs.

    Black can be a huge factor in a game with his ability to strike out so many batters. People worry too much about walks: if guys aren’t able to square up his pitches to hit, the walks will die on base. And studies have shown that if you can strike out more than twice the number of walks, you can still be a very good pitcher.

    But that’s the rub with him right now, he walked too many to get his K/BB ratio much above 2 last season. Hopefully what you noted are things that can get him going. He’s on the Osich rehab plan, the Giants took it relatively easy on him last couple of seasons in order to build up whatever muscles they think he needs to in order to stay healthier going forward, I am sure, plus to not push too hard on him in his return. And the Giants often starts RP in order to give him more practice pitching in game conditions, to make up for lost time, as well as to work on his latest lessons and executing them in game conditions, which is much different because of the adrenaline levels that get boosted.

    And the good news is that after that stretch of starts, he was able to go 20 K/7 BB, almost a 3.0 ratio, which is excellent, plus he did well in the AFL, with the main caveat that he’s 25 YO, old for the leagues (though since he missed so much time, probably around the same experience level) and thus the Giants should feel greater pressure to move him up faster than normal else he’ll be 28 before making the majors for good.

    This seems to be a good spot for him, as he’s got a lot of potential plus has been doing well, but he has that history of injuries plus he’s kinda old, but age is not as important for RP, as their relative lack of usage seems to help many stay productive into their late 30’s. However, I think we will be lucky to get six good pre-FA years out of him, he’ll probably be like Lincecum, with a huge flash of goodness for a handful of years, then a fade. Hopefully he can stay healthy and prove me wrong, but his struggles with staying healthy is not a good sign for a long career as a pitcher.

    1. OGC, got to agree with you on WAR and valuing RPs. I think this yet another reason the Giants farm system is undervalued – we got a ton of stud, high ceiling RPs in the pipeline that will stock the big club at low cost for years to come. Homegrown indeed!

      1. That’s something I’ve thought about too, but never really put together. It’s VERY hard to evaluate a reliever… and game situation absolutely matters. You ‘d think there’d be a stat for that! 😉

    2. Some great points here OGC. Bullpen use & reliever trustworthiness is totally underrated for some reason, though now teams are waking up because the Royals had a great bullpen. What about the Giants core 4? No credit, I tell you!

      Yes, the volatility of Black’s arm is the huge issue here. If he shows consistent command, get him to the big leagues as soon as health allows. You never know when that last bullet might be thrown.

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