San Francisco Giants: A Role for Ray Black in 2017?

Even after signing Mark Melancon, the San Francisco Giants could use more bullpen help. Could they add hard-throwing minor leaguer Ray Black into the mix in 2017?

The San Francisco Giants bullpen was in need of a major overhaul this offseason, and the team made a big step in that direction by signing closer Mark Melancon to a five-year deal. However, if you watched the Giants’ relievers this year, especially toward the end of the season, you know that they probably need more than one key addition in that area, regardless of how talented and effective Melancon is.

Some of the secondary options on the relief pitching market, like Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa, are beginning to come off the board, meaning the choices are dwindling for San Francisco to further fortify its bullpen. The trade market could bring some intriguing possibilities, but if the Giants would prefer not to deal prospects, they might look inside their own minor league system for a solution.

That’s where young right-hander Ray Black comes in. A seventh round draft selection of San Francisco’s in 2011, Black has created quite a stir throughout his three minor league seasons with his ability to hit triple digits on the radar gun with his fastball. He’s reportedly reached as high as 104 MPH – just below Aroldis Chapman‘s 105 MPH record.

Of course, pure power has never been the issue for Black. Injuries and an inability to consistently harness his stuff have kept him from fulfilling his potential as a hurler to this point. Multiple setbacks, including Tommy John surgery before college and a torn labrum in his right shoulder during his first Spring Training, prevented him from appearing in a minor league game until 2014.

Since then, Black’s performance has been something of a mixed bag. His strikeout numbers are off the charts; he’s averaged 17.2 K/9 over his three minor league seasons, topping out at a mind-bending 18.4 K/9 in 2015. But despite how impressive his strikeout ability is, walks have been a glaring weakness. Black has allowed 7.2 BB/9 in his minors career, including an ugly 9.2 BB/9 just this past year.

Overcoming those control problems has been an ongoing project for Black. He posted ERAs of 3.57 and 2.88 his first two seasons, respectively, but this year upon being promoted to Double-A he put up a 4.88 mark. You can get away with a lot if you’re striking out two batters an inning, but eventually it catches up to you, especially at higher levels where opponents typically show more plate discipline.

The Giants still have some space in their bullpen, though, even after inking Melancon. Veteran relievers Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla are free agents and unlikely to return, leaving a couple prominent holes. Does San Francisco bring up Black, warts and all, in hopes that his firepower will do wonders out of the pen?

Unless he really blows the Giants away in Spring Training, it’s hard to see Black getting that opportunity right away. Aside from the obvious issues he still needs to work out in the minors, he simply hasn’t logged that many innings yet as a professional. 91.2 frames over three minor league campaigns, to be precise, plus another nine in 2015’s Arizona Fall League. He has also yet to pitch above the Double-A level. He’ll be 27 next June, but throwing him into major league action now just seems too hasty.

For the immediate future, the Giants should focus on the free agent (Greg Holland as a setup man?) and trade (Brad Brach? Nate Jones?) markets for bullpen reinforcements. In terms of in-house options, it makes more sense to expect more from the likes of Derek Law and Hunter Strickland rather than rush Black into the fold. Lefty Will Smith, acquired from the Brewers prior to last season’s trade deadline, will also be around for the full year.

Black could still be a factor in 2017, just not right out of the gate. If he shows tangible improvement and success at Triple-A, then the Giants can consider unleashing the hard-throwing righty on big league opposition.

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