Pittsburgh Pirates relief prospect Vic Black is having a fine season down at Triple-A Indianapolis: 17 saves, 2.08 ERA in 43.1 innings, 60 strikeouts, 17 walks, only 23 hits allowed. He's held International League hitters to a .151 average. He's been especially effective of late, with a 26/6 K/BB ratio and a 1.43 ERA in his last 18.1 innings.
The Pirates got a brief look at Black in late July when he made three relief appearances out of the big league bullpen, giving up six hits, two walks, and two runs in four innings of work, fanning three. With the Pirates locked in a tight National League Central division pennant race with the St. Louis Cardinals, it seems certain that Black will be back to provide reinforcement once the rosters expand in September.
Unlike many minor league closers, Black does not want for stuff: he has one of the best fastballs in the system, clocked as high as 101 MPH in the minors; he hit 98 during his major league trial and averaged 95. A supplemental first round pick in 2009 out of Dallas Baptist, he struggled with control problems, a substandard change-up, and persistent arm trouble early in his career and at one point looked like a bust.
He revived his career by converting to relief, posting an excellent 1.65 ERA with an 85/29 K/BB in 60 innings with 13 saves last year in Double-A, followed by consistent success this year. He's had fewer problems throwing strikes and staying healthy with relief use, doesn't have to worry about the change-up, and can just come in and blow people away for an inning or two with his fastball and a slider that can touch 90.
Black clearly has closer possibilities down the road if his command holds up.