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Bucs prospect Black eager to hit mound in AFL

PHOENIX -- For some prospects, a trip to Arizona to compete in the Arizona Fall League comes with an inherent amount of pressure to perform attached with it.

Pirates right-hander Victor Black doesn't fall into that category.

He's just happy to be on the mound again, releasing the aggression that built up inside him when he was unable to play.

Selected in the first round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of high school, Black experienced immediate success in short season rookie ball.

In 2009, he struck out 33 batters in 31 1/3 innings and posted a 3.45 ERA. His numbers appeared to have him on the short track to the Major Leagues.

But over the next two seasons, several arm injuries slowed Black's progress. The righty tossed just a combined 40 1/3 innings from 2010-11, the dream of his early professional years turning into a nightmare.

Now healthy, Black, ranked No. 15 on the Pirates' Top 20 Prospects list, is one of seven Pirates prospects playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the AFL.

"My arm feels great, it's everything else that is starting to ache," Black joked. "I'm still long tossing when I can match up with a guy that needs to throw long, or else I'll match up with two guys at the same time. [My] shoulder feels good, though. To be able to get back in the zone and get some aggression back is good."

Black is hoping to use his time in Arizona to build off a dominant season with Double-A Altoona. The 24-year-old appeared in 51 games out of the bullpen, boasting a 1.65 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 60 innings.

His closer-like repertoire and mindset could get him to the back end of the Pirates' bullpen someday.

But as the Double-A season ended in September, Black figured his campaign was complete. So when he first received the news his club was sending him to the AFL, he had to turn things back up again.

"For them to think that highly of me to send me out here to get some more innings, there is a purpose behind it and I'm excited."
-- Victor Black

"I didn't think I'd keep playing, so I shut it down mentally," Black said. "It definitely caught me off guard at first, but it's a privilege. All these guys out here are top-notch players. For them to think that highly of me to send me out here to get some more innings, there is a purpose behind it and I'm excited."

Likely due to the fact that he wasn't in the right mindset to begin his time in the AFL, Black struggled in his first three outings for Scottsdale, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits. But in his most recent appearance on Saturday, the righty tossed a scoreless ninth inning to earn the save.

"I think it was kind of the situation I needed to kind of get back in a rhythm," he said. "In Double-A, you've got the one-through-six guys that swing it pretty well, but here you've got one through nine. The aggression has to stay there or else you get beat. It was nice to get an outing where I felt like I was letting it go, not thinking, just trusting everything."

With a two-seam fastball in the upper 90s and a hard slider that records many of his strikeouts, Black is also working on another pitch in Arizona to further help his game.

"I've got a new two-seamer," he said. "That pitch allows you to throw something over the plate with a little bit of movement that they don't catch like a four-seamer. So if I get behind the count, that will come in handy."

Besides implementing the new pitch to his arsenal, one of Black's biggest goals, predictably, is to get out of the AFL injury-free and ready to show what he can do next year.

"The key thing is to stay healthy through this and go into Spring Training with a full head of steam," he said. "When you get outs in certain situations, it speaks for itself. They see all that. The hope and possible future of playing in Pittsburgh is something I certainly look forward to. "

Pirates hitters in the Fall League
Reaching Triple-A Indianapolis at the end of the season, Matt Curry finally got over the Double-A hump, where he had spent the previous 198 games of his career.

But because the first baseman only played in two games at Indianapolis, the Pirates sent him to Arizona for a better look. The power-hitting 24-year-old batted .287 in 2012, with 34 doubles, 11 homers and 78 RBIs.

Gift Ngoepe already possesses a Major League-caliber glove, but with his bat lagging behind, the AFL is an opportunity for the shortstop to get more at-bats against good competition.

The 22-year-old South Africa native hit just .232 with Class A Advanced Bradenton this season. A plus for Ngoepe is his patience at the plate, however. He totaled 63 walks in 2012, lifting his on-base percentage to .330.

Missing time with an injury this season, Adalberto Santos heads to Arizona to make up for lost time. The outfielder out of Oregon State tore up Double-A pitching while he was healthy this year, batting .340/.425/.433.

With a good showing in the Fall League, the 25-year-old should find himself at Triple-A to begin his 2013 campaign.

Pirates pitchers in the Fall League
Despite only striking out 88 batters in 152 1/3 innings this season in Altoona, Brandon Cumpton put up strikingly good numbers in 2012.

Ranked No. 20 on the Pirates' Top 20 Prospects list, Cumpton finished his campaign with a 3.84 ERA in 27 starts for Double-A before making the trip to Arizona.

The control pitcher is throwing out of the bullpen in the Fall League, a new venture for him as he hopes to earn a spot in Triple-A next year.

Acquired from the Marlins in the Gaby Sanchez deal earlier this season, Kyle Kaminska pitched well once he entered the Pirates organization.

Between 28 combined innings in Bradenton and Altoona, Kaminska gave up just seven earned runs while striking out 22. The Pirates want to see if the 24-year-old can continue his performance in the AFL with a step up in competition.

Out of the entire Pirates' delegation in Arizona, Tyler Waldron struggled the most in 2012. The 23-year-old posted a 4.89 ERA between Bradenton and Altoona in 28 appearances (26 starts).

The right-hander surrendered 14 home runs and walked 40 over his 141 2/3 innings and will have to limit both numbers to have success in the AFL.

Pittsburgh Pirates