Q&A: Vic Black, Pirates’ Future Closer

Vic Black is the heir apparent to the closer’s job in Pittsburgh. The 24-year-old right-hander won’t be replacing Jason Grilli in the near future, but he may be joining Grilli in the Pirates’ bullpen. Four years after being drafted 49th overall out of Dallas Baptist University, Black looks close to big-league ready.

Black cooks with gas: His fastball sits in the mid-to-high 90s and touches triple digits. His slider can be overpowering. Last season, at Double-A Altoona, he logged an Eastern League-best 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings. This year, with Triple-A Indianapolis, his K-rate is 12.5 — and he has almost as many saves [11] as hits allowed [14].

Black talked about his power repertoire this past weekend on a visit to McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I.

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Black on adapting to Triple-A: “My approach is the same, it’s just become more refined. It has to be. The hitters are better — their selectivity is better — so the sequences from me and my catcher have to be better. Being on the same page with Tony [Sanchez] or Lucas [May] is a big deal because there’s no room for missed pitches.

“The situations are also different. Last year I was throwing strictly one inning. A few days ago, I had a one-and-two-thirds-inning save. I came in with the tying run on first, in the eighth inning, which is a different animal for me.

“My key right now is commanding the inner and outer parts of the plate with my four-seam. I’ve been better with that this year, especially of late. Then I need to throw my breaking ball in the zone, as well as in the dirt. Last year I could get away with just throwing it in the dirt, because guys were afraid to get beat by my fastball. They needed to be on time, so they’d see the same thing out of my hand and cheat. They’d chase. But this year they’re watching it bounce, so I need to throw it in the zone more often. That’s probably been the biggest change for me, development-wise.”

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.

“I think velocity is a big deal. It gives you an extra addition. To me, 98 is another pitch. You don’t really need to locate it a lot. There are times — like early in the count — when you can get away with rearing back and throwing it down the middle. It’s like, ‘Go ahead and swing and we’ll see if you‘ve got it; if you don’t, I’ll throw it again.’”

On his fastball as four different pitches;
“The other night I struck out Moises Sierra on a 2-2 high fastball that Tony called. It’s not something we’ve done a lot of. Sometimes I miss up, just because my arm angle is over the top and I’ll get guys to chase by accident. But there have been a few times this year we’ve gone up intentionally and guys have chased. We’ve gotten [pitches] fouled off and we’ve gotten swing-throughs. That, in itself, is another pitch.

“I think a four-seam can be four different pitches. You’ve got down-angle, you have in, you have out and you have down-angle up. As long as my hand is on top of the ball, I have angle. Even if it’s up, it’s still coming down.”

On Jason Grilli and the Pirates’ bullpen: “I talked to him a little bit in spring training — Mark Melancon, too — more or less discussing where they came from. Grilli has an interesting background. To see what he’s gone through, and the way he’s persevered and stuck to what he knew…. I was reading the other night how he was in Lehigh Valley in 2011, striking guys out, and he wasn’t getting a shot. Now look where he is. He’s legit. That whole back end of the bullpen is legit.

“One thing we have in common is that we always attack with what we have. We never seem to leave anything on the table. If you’re going to beat us, you’re going to beat our best stuff. I think we have that attitude in common.

“If I go up, I won’t be throwing the ninth. Grilli’s there, Melancon is there — we have really good guys — so I’ll have to be able to help out in any way I can. That could be multiple innings.

“In the back of my head, I’ll think about it. But truthfully, once I uniform up and go out to the bullpen, I know where I’m at and who I play for. I’m an [Indianapolis] Indian. But I’d obviously welcome being a Pirate.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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