Mets add a potential closer in hard-throwing Vic Black
WASHINGTON - He usually rocks a Mohawk because he believes it best reflects his mind-set on the baseball field. He traded in his sports car for a pickup truck because he racked up speeding tickets at about the same rate he collected saves in the minor leagues. He occasionally touches 100 mph with his fastball.
Technically, Vic Black was acquired by the Mets this past week as the player to be named in the trade that sent veterans John Buck and Marlon Byrd to the Pirates. But the team's newest fireballing reliever could have just as easily been sent by central casting.
"The back end is definitely what I'm bred for mind-wise," said Black, who joined infielder Zach Lutz and lefty specialist Tim Byrdak as the Mets' September call-ups.
Other than saying he will use the Mets' newest reliever in games, manager Terry Collins did not let on about what role he envisions for Black as the season winds down. But before Sunday night's game, Collins spoke with several Nationals players who faced Black in the minor leagues. The reports he heard were encouraging. Said Collins, "They said he's got closer's stuff."
With the Mets, the 25-year-old Black should have the opportunity to work late in games, especially with closer Bobby Parnell weighing surgery to address a herniated disc in his neck. LaTroy Hawkins has handled save chances, but throughout the season, Collins has generally hesitated to use him on consecutive days.
That could open the door for Black to show his stuff to the Mets, who pushed for Black in trade talks with the Pirates in hopes of adding to their stockpile of arms.
The Mets also obtained 19-year-old second baseman Dilson Herrera in the trade for Buck and Byrd.
Though Black knew the deal involved a player to be named, he did not think he would be the add-on piece. "It never crossed my mind," said Black, whose attention was squarely on helping the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate through the postseason.
Now his focus has shifted toward making a positive impression on the Mets, who will use the final month to evaluate players going into next season.
Black was 5-3 with 17 saves and a 2.51 ERA with Triple-A Indianapolis. With his power arsenal -- a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a hard slider -- he racked up 63 strikeouts in 462/3 innings. But his command has never matched his stuff.
Since the Pirates chose Black out of Dallas Baptist University in the supplemental round of the 2009 draft, the righthander has walked at least four batters per nine innings in parts of five pro seasons.
In some ways, he has come full circle by returning to the Mets, who drafted him in the 41st round in 2006 out of Amarillo (Texas) High School. But he was relatively early into his conversion from a catcher to a starting pitcher, which he continued at Dallas Baptist.
The Pirates quickly converted him into a reliever, a concession in part to shoulder instability that cost him much of the 2010 season. He avoided surgery and the rest did him some good.
Black began the season as one of the Pirates' most highly regarded relief prospects. Now the Mets hope to find out whether Black can actually play the part along with looking the part.
Though Black shaved his Mohawk a few days ago, he intends to bring back the hairdo before the season is finished.
Said Black: "When it comes to playing baseball, it fits my personality."