Black vying to be next man up in rotation

March 2nd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Maria Guardado’s Giants Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When Tristan Beck was scratched from his scheduled Cactus League debut on Monday, the Giants turned to pitching prospect to step in and plug the sudden hole in their starting rotation.

Now that Beck is expected to miss significant time due to an upper arm aneurysm, Black could have a chance to fill in on a more permanent basis. The 24-year-old right-hander is expected to compete for a back-end spot in the Giants’ rotation this spring, joining a list of starting hopefuls that includes swingman Sean Hjelle and non-roster invitee Spencer Howard.

Black, who is ranked the Giants’ No. 9 prospect by MLB Pipeline, got a rude welcome in his first start of the spring against the Angels on Monday, surrendering a leadoff homer to Ehire Adrianza on his first pitch of the game. Black departed after allowing two runs on three hits over two innings, but he’ll have an opportunity to rebound Saturday, when he’s expected to build up to around three innings in his second Cactus League outing against the Padres at Scottsdale Stadium.

Black has been viewed as one of the club’s most big league-ready pitching prospects after recording a 3.71 ERA with 155 strikeouts over 123 2/3 innings in 29 starts between Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Sacramento last year, but the Giants still want to see him perform in Cactus League play and show that he can compete at the next level.

“It’s going to be results,” manager Bob Melvin said. “These aren’t the greatest conditions in the world to pitch, and it’s tough to evaluate, too. But when you’re evaluating certain spots in guys, that’s all you have to go on here.”

A former bioengineering major at Lehigh University, Black considered attending medical school before realizing that he could have a future in professional baseball. After being selected by the Giants in the third round of the 2021 MLB Draft, the 6-foot-3 hurler enjoyed a swift rise through the club’s Minor League system, though he hit a major stumbling block at Richmond last year.

Black opened the season in the Flying Squirrels’ rotation but he got off to a rough start, posting a 5.89 ERA through his first 10 outings.

“I’ve definitely gone through some lumps playing college ball and everywhere, but that was definitely the most pronounced it’s been,” Black said. “Like, ‘Oh, wow, I have like a 6.00 ERA through two months. This is not going well.’ I would say that’s been the biggest obstacle.”

Black said he got back on track with the help of Richmond pitching coach Paul Oseguera, who encouraged him to stick to his strengths on the mound and focus on competing rather than being too analytical. The mindset shift proved effective, as Black ended up logging a 0.34 ERA with 38 strikeouts over 26 1/3 innings over his next six starts with the Flying Squirrels before earning a promotion to Sacramento in mid-July.

Despite the “dark times in Double-A,” Black said he’s happy he was able to troubleshoot and learn to overcome adversity early in his career.

“It is nice looking back,” Black said. “It was what it was. I’m glad I went through the struggles and glad I was able to figure it out. Hopefully I can rely on that in the future if I start going down those rabbit holes again.”

The Giants believe Black has both the makeup and the stuff to be a Major League starter, as he features a power sinker, two different sliders and a changeup.

“It’s good,” Melvin said. “It’s unique. It’s got a lot of lower-half drive with kind of a little upshoot type of a sinker. Usually that kind of movement is more down in the zone. His tends to be up in the zone some. For a hitter, it’s a little different optic. It creates some deception that way.”

Like he did back in Richmond, Black plans to keep doing what he does best and hope that he'll have a chance to continue ascending with the Giants.

“I think stay on everything that I’ve been doing the past couple of years that has made me good,” Black said. “The goal is to break with the team, and we’ll see what happens.”