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Scouting Ray Black, new pitching prospect for the Milwaukee Brewers

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Elite velocity and spin rate indicative of a future dominant reliever.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at San Francisco Giants Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Just a couple of hours prior to the trade deadline the Brewers traded Mauricio Dubon for Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black in what will be remembered in Brewers’ lore as the “ significant trade.”

There is hope that the trade will prove significant for the Brewers in the near term with Drew Pomeranz stabilizing the bullpen. There is likely even greater hope that the trade will prove significant in the long term with the acquisition of Ray Black, because this guy has some of the most explosive stuff in all of professional baseball.

Unfortunately, Black has suffered multiple setbacks in terms of injury and inconsistency. His injuries began in high school when he had to go under the knife for Tommy John. He tore his meniscus and broke his hand in college. After signing as a 7th round draft pick in 2011, he had labrum surgery on his shoulder.

He would not make his professional debut until 2014. He has missed time since then as well. He was on the shelf for awhile with lat issues in 2015. In 2016 he was out with back spasms and bone spurs in his elbow. Those bone spurs led to his release early in 2017 before San Francisco re-signed him that August.

What makes Black so intriguing is his velocity. He once reached 104 mph and earns 80 grades on the scouting scale for his fastball. It is said that he may be more enamored with lighting up the radar gun than he should be, resulting in overthrowing and losing the strike zone with too much regularity. His inconsistency finding the strike zone (35 command grade) has been his real bugaboo.

Black is old for a prospect, as well, pitching in his age-29 season. While he can get to 100+ mph, he regularly sits at 96-99 mph. There is also indication that he is embracing the idea of better understanding his abilities via pitching metrics. That is something he was probably late in doing because of the injuries as well as God-given blessings he had in terms of talent.

Something else that is a curse and a blessing for Black is that he features high spin rates on his fastball (100th percentile in MLB) and slider. It is said that he has flashed a very nice curveball as well. Those spin rates likely impact his command, but also make him virtually unhittable when he is on.

While he is sitting at 96-99 mph these days instead of 102 mph, he has yet to achieve major league success. In parts of two seasons, he has posted a 6.04 ERA and 4.15 FIP over 25.1 innings. What stands out is that he struck out 38 MLB hitters in those 25+ innings (career 13.50 K/9), but he also gave up 17 runs while walking 11 (career 3.91 BB/9) and allowing 5 home runs (career 1.79 HR/9).

He has not done much better this season in AAA posting a 5.15 ERA and a 4.64 FIP with problems walking hitters (5.16 BB/9) and giving up homers (1.59 HR/9). He will have to rectify his issues of giving up walks and home runs to achieve his very high ceiling.

To illustrate how high his ceiling is, Fangraph’s Eric Longenhagen described him as, “with some of the nastiest stuff-related measurables on Earth.” Eno Sarris thought enough of Black as well as Drew Pomeranz enough to tweet this immediately after the Dubon trade:

The problem is that Black uses his fastball (71.2%) and slider (28.8%) exclusively at the major league level. Maybe there is room to throw the curveball as both an off speed offering as well as an effective swing and miss offering. With someone with so many command issues, it might be deemed problematic to add complexity. However, he does get hit more than he should for someone with so much raw talent (21 hits over 25.1 innings MLB career). Everything he shows at the major league level has been hard. Utilizing a pitch in a softer velocity band might prove beneficial.

Ray Black pitch usage

Put simply, Ray Black is the epitome of a high risk/high reward prospect/player. At 29 years old he is old for a prospect. Injuries have derailed a great deal of his development however, and that should be noted. The big right-hander is also controllable until 2024. If the Brewers’ player development group can fix what ails this pitcher, the Brewers have a dominant reliever on the cheap for years to come. Mauricio Dubon is the safer player to buy into regarding this trade. Ray Black is the type of player that, if he finds it, he can dominate. Remember his velocity and spin rates are off the charts. If that is the case, Milwaukee will probably win this trade for those who worry about such things.

Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant