Corey Black | RHP
A Southern California kid from San Diego, Black played both baseball and football at Mission Bay High School. He was a four-year varsity player on the diamond, though he missed most of his junior season due to Tommy John surgery. Black was primarily a shortstop as a prepster, and he wasn’t much of a pro prospect despite hitting .431 with seven homers as a senior. He went undrafted in 2009 and followed through on his commitment to San Diego State.
Black was a two-way player under head coach Tony Gwynn (yes, that Tony Gwynn) as a freshman, going just 2-for-18 with eight strikeouts as a utility infielder while pitching to a 7.04 ERA in 47.1 innings. He struck out 50 and walked 27 in his seven starts and seven relief appearances. Black saw much more time on the mound as a sophomore, posting a 3.56 ERA with 78 strikeouts and 42 walks in 73.1 innings. He made eleven starts and eight relief appearances while also going 1-for-6 at the plate.
The Aztecs took Black off their roster in the fall for an unknown reason, so he wound up transferring to Faulkner University in Alabama, a NAIA school. Had he gone to another NCAA school, he would have been ineligible to play for one year. Black served as the Eagles’ staff ace last spring, pitching to a 1.53 ERA with 96 strikeouts and 34 walks in 88 innings across 14 starts. Baseball America ranked him as the third best prospect in Alabama and 157th best prospect overall for the 2012 draft, and that’s exactly where the Yankees selected him — in the fourth round and 157th overall. He signed quickly for $215k, roughly $60k below the recommended slot value.
The Yankees sent Black to the rookie level Gulf Coast League for one tune-up appearance (one run in 1.1 innings) before quickly bumping him up to Short Season Staten Island. He pitched to a 2.28 ERA (3.24 FIP) in six starts and 27.2 innings for the Baby Bombers before being promoted to Low-A Charleston a month later. Black made five more starts with the River Dogs, posting a 3.80 ERA (1.64 FIP) in 23.2 innings. All told, he pitched to a 3.08 ERA (~2.70 FIP) with 50 strikeouts (8.5 K/9 and 23.6 K%) and 15 walks (2.6 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%) in 52.2 innings this past summer.
Black stands out for two reasons. One, he’s an undersized right-handed pitcher, standing just 5-foot-11 and 175 lbs. Two, he offers premium fastball velocity thanks to electric arm speed. Black regularly runs his fastball into the mid-90s as a starter and hit triple-digits a few times in 2012. The pitch has a little two-seam action in on righties. A decent but still developing changeup is his second offering while the slider and curveball lag as his third and fourth pitches. He’s not a one-pitch guy, but the offspeed stuff definitely needs work.
Black’s delivery has some violence, specifically a head-whack as he releases the ball, and his follow-through can be pretty stiff. His command comes and goes because of it. The Yankees have helped smooth him out since the draft, but it’s something he’ll have to continue working on. Like most of the team’s draft choices, Black’s makeup and work ethic are considered pluses. There’s a handful of video from his time with the SI Yanks on YouTube.
There have been some rumblings that the Yankees will invite Black to big league Spring Training in a few weeks, but that is unconfirmed as far as I know. He’d be an extreme long shot to make the club obviously, but it would still be a huge vote of confidence from the organization. Black will likely start the season with High-A Tampa, and a midseason promotion would be in the cards if he performs well.
Late Update: On Twitter, Black said he isn’t sure if he’ll be going to big league Spring Training this year. So there.
Even Later Update: On Twitter, Black confirmed that he has been invited to big league camp. The Yankees must really, really like him.
I’m a pretty big fan of both Black as a player and also the use of the pick. Grabbing an elite fastball in the fourth round is pretty tough to do. Black is going to have a lot of doubters because of his size, and it’s not just the typical durability concerns either. Shorter pitchers tend to have a hard time driving the ball downhill and wind up being fly ball and homer prone. I’m not sure if Black can to remain a starter given his rough delivery and unrefined secondary pitches, but the Yankees will keep him in the rotation for the time being just to allow him to accumulate innings. The fastball gives Black end-game potential as a reliever, and he could move very quickly if the club sticks him in the bullpen at some point next season