Name: Corey Black
Age: 24 (8/4/1991)
How Acquired: Traded to Cubs on July 26, 2013 from the New York Yankees for Alfonso Soriano and cash.
Status: Rule 5 eligible after 2016 season for second time
After spending his entire pro career as a starter, Corey Black headed to the bullpen in June last season and didn’t excel in his new role. “I got a little shell shocked,” Black told Carrie Muskat of MLB.com during an interview in Arizona Fall League. “I was afraid to throw anywhere near the strike zone.”
Its never been easy for Black. A four-year letter-winner at Mission Bay High School in San Diego, he spent most of his prep career at shortstop, hitting .431 with seven homers as a senior. He missed a majority of his junior season with Tommy John surgery and only threw three innings his senior year. He headed to San Diego State, making 14 appearances, including seven starts, with 50 K in 47.1 IP as a freshman. Black moved into a full-time starting role in 2011 for the Aztecs, posting a 4-5 mark with a 3.56 ERA and 78 K in 73.1 innings but it would be his last at SDSU. He left that fall and enrolled at Faulkner University, a NAIA school in Alabama. The righty dominated the competition, going 11-2 with a 1.53 ERA with 96 K in 88 innings.
The Yankees selected Black in the 4th round in 2012 (157th pick), signing for $215,000. He made his debut on July 2 in the Gulf Coast Rookie League, made six starts (27.2 IP) at Staten Island in the New York-Penn League, and made five more starts in the South Atlantic League. He ended his first pro season with a line of 2-2, 3.08 ERA, 52.2 IP, 42 H, 15 BB, 50 K. Black admitted he didn’t have confidence in his stuff to start 2013 with Tampa in the FSL and had trouble repeating his delivery. In 19 starts for the Yankees, he went 3-8 with a 4.25 ERA and 88 K in 82.2 IP but 45 walks. Black had his best outing of the season against Daytona on May 30, no-hitting the Cubs for five innings, allowing a run on four walks with seven strikeouts. He whiffed a season-high 11 Clearwater hitters on May 2.
After getting traded for Alfonso Soriano, he made five starts for Daytona, going 4-0 with a 2.88 ERA. He had 28 punchouts and 10 walks in 25 innings. Black made two starts in the playoffs and was outstanding, tossing five shutout innings with seven strikeouts against Dunedin in Game 1 of the division series, and threw six more shutout innings in Game 4 against Charlotte in the finals. The San Diego native finished his second year of pro ball going 7-8 with a 3.93 ERA and led the FSL with 116 strikeouts.
Making his AA debut on April 5 in relief of a rehabbing Jake Arrieta, Black took the hill for 25 starts in ’14, logging a career-high 124.1 innings in his first full-season with the Cubs. The right-hander’s biggest issue in ’14 was commanding the strike zone, as he finished with a career high 5.14 BB/9. He fanned over 100 hitters for the second straight season, earned pitcher of the week honors after six no-hit innings against Birmingham in April, and was named to the Southern League mid-season all-star team.
A non-roster invite to spring training, Black made news when he broke Giants outfielder Hunter Pence’s wrist with a pitch. After appearing in three spring games, Black was assigned to Tennessee and took a spot in the Smokies rotation for the second straight year. In eight of his nine starts, he went at least five innings, including a 10-K outing against Birmingham. As a starter, Black went 2-2 with a 3.09 ERA, 46.2 IP, 1.07 WHIP, .195 BAA, 53 K, 19 BB, and was named a Southern League All-Star. He didn’t have the same success out of the pen. After a pair of two shutout inning performances, Black gave up four runs the next time out but he responded with another five scoreless frames of relief (three games). He then surrendered runs in six of his next nine outing and after that, had problems finding the strike zone, walking 13 over the his final 11.2 innings. In relief, Black was 1-3 with a 7.09 ERA and blew four games and didn’t record a save. In 39.1 innings, he allowed six homers and walked 28 with a WHIP of 1.81 and BAA of .281. In the Arizona Fall League, Black had a couple of rough outings (10 runs in 2.1 IP) that inflated his stats but he pitched better in relief than in Tennessee.
Tools and 2016 Outlook
Not protected during the Rule 5 draft his off-season, I was rather surprised that no team took a shot on the San Diego native. Despite only standing 5-foot-11, Black is one of the Cubs hardest throwers in the minors, hitting the mid-90 on a consistent basis, and led all Cubs minor leaguers with a 10.6 K/9. He said during the interview in the Arizona Fall League that he’s working a change-up that he cuts to both lefties and righties, and its often confused for a slider. Black wasn’t invited to camp this spring, so it will be interesting to see if he returns to the rotation or works out of the bullpen in AAA, having already logged over 200 AA innings the past two seasons. Don’t be surprised if Black bounces back this year and pitches his way onto a 40-man roster spot by the end of the year. And after his latest post on social media, he sounds ready, “After the shortest yet longest off season ever, I've never felt better about where I'm at and how I feel. Couldn't be more excited to get out there and start competing again. If you think I'm the same person I was last year you are the person who will be disappointed the most!”