Black aims to move past injuries with increased velocity
Giants righty sees jump on radar gun after working way back from shoulder surgery
By William Boor
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- All the projections said Ray Black wouldn't pitch with the same velocity after his surgery to his right shoulder and those projections were correct. However, they didn't account for the possibility Black would come back throwing harder than ever.
"[After] labrum surgery they gave me about a seven percent chance to come back to my former self," Black, the No. 19 prospect in the Giants' organization, said. "Basically it just sunk in for me to continue to work hard. ... It helped me grind a little bit harder."
The odds may have been small, but Black used it as motivation rather than discouragement. The hard-throwing right-hander has a lengthy injury history, but somehow has improved after clearing every obstacle.
Black said he threw between 88 and 92 mph in high school, before having Tommy John surgery. Once he got back on the mound, his fastball was in the upper-90s.
Black then found himself back in rehab after he tore his right meniscus and broke his right hand.
Then, Black tore his right labrum, delaying the start of his professional career. After the Giants selected Black in the seventh round of the 2011 Draft he didn't pitch until 2014, but when he did something happened.
Black's fastball velocity had peaked again, this time hitting triple digits.
"I'd always flirted with it," the 25-year old said. "Before I had my shoulder fixed I'd hit 99 one time, but that's as high as I'd got."
And it didn't happen just once. The right-hander routinely flashes 100 mph on the radar gun and has topped out at 104 mph.
"It was nice, but the nicest thing about it was I didn't have to amp up to throw it," Black said. "I'm able to pitch with it at that velocity."
Black's velocity is certainly there, but command is still a work in progress. Black has struck out 12 batters in seven innings in the Arizona Fall League, but has also walked six -- a number he'd like to see shrink.
"Definitely room to improve, there's no doubt," Black said. "I think everybody wants to improve fastball location. I don't think you could ever get too perfect with fastball location, that's my big thing coming out here. The other thing, the nice thing, is in this league you're facing some really good hitters. What I saw early on was guys were putting the ball in play, I gave up a few hits, but I had good defense behind me and it gave me a lot more confidence to pitch to contact."
Black's development has been significantly delayed because of the numerous injuries. Including his current stint in the AFL, Black has thrown just 67 1/3 innings since he was drafted and has watched Joe Panik (first round) and Andrew Susac (second round), both of whom were part of his Draft class, reach the Majors.
"I never envied those guys, I always loved to see the other guys advance, love to see the guys go out and do their best out on the field," Black said. "For me, it was more motivation."
The struggles have been constant and frustrating, but they've also given Black perspective and helped him mature as a player.
"Adversity is the key word there," Black said. "Guys will come off the field and attack water coolers after bad games and it sort of humbled me to realize that, 'hey, this career could be over in one pitch.' Good days, bad days, it's helped me bounce back from getting a ninth inning blown save or a loss to realize, 'you're off the field, you're healthy, a lot worse things could happen out there.'"
After all, there was only a seven percent chance he'd be there in the first place.
William Boor is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.