Wright State's Tyler Black Adds 'Accidental' Power With Newfound Approach
As a freshman at Wright State in 2019, Tyler Black put himself on the map.
In a shortened 2020 season, the Canadian infielder struggled in his small sample while battling through a shoulder injury he’d sustained at the end of the previous year. Not long after baseball shut down, Black underwent surgery on his right shoulder to repair a small tear in his labrum, allowing him to begin this year with nine months of recovery and rehab under his belt.
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“The rehab was terrible,” Black said. “It was so bad. I’ve been injured before. I had an ankle injury in high school but this was a totally different animal. I’ve never had surgery in my life. The range of motion stuff was tough and then I was out pretty much all fall, throwing-wise. I was hitting at the end of the fall but that took a while too, with the throwing program and everything. I’m good now but at the time it was tough.”
Black is now 24 games into this Raiders season, almost 11 months post-surgery, and he has returned to his freshman form. The Toronto native is hitting .365/.495/.694 with seven homers, five doubles, a triple, and more walks than strikeouts, while getting in time at both second and third.
His profile is atypical from a traditional perspective, since “My hit tool’s probably my best, then speed, glove, arm and then power,” Black shared.
But the work he’s putting in has potential to change that order in the future, as well as helping those tools translate at different positions. And no one is more equipped to break down those tools than the man himself.
Black put power at the bottom of his list, with the caveat that it is a tool he’s spent significant time on and has been finding improvements with. He’s matched his freshman homer total of seven already this year, with 13 extra-base hits among his 31 knocks.
“This year I’m definitely starting to tap into my power potential a little more,” he said. “For me, that was the goal going into this year. I don’t really have number goals, but the mindset of driving the ball. Since I’ve been at Wright State one of the biggest things I’ve learned is how to backspin the ball, which has been huge for me. Coming in, I was top spinning the ball a ton; I was really handsy at the plate.
“I didn’t hit a lot of home runs in high school. The spin is so big. I had a tough freshman fall, and at the time our hitting coach was Matt Talarico, he’s with the Yankees now, and that was just really what we focused on all fall—getting that true spin. Now when I’m in batting practice, that’s all I look for. Right before a game, I’m not trying to make any mechanical adjustments. I’m looking for—am I spinning the ball correctly? Because if I’m spinning the ball, my swing is on point for that day.”
Though Black has worked to become more aggressive at the dish, he only looks to use that approach at opportune times.
“There’s a time and place for more aggressive swings,” said Black, the No. 195-ranked draft prospect. “Hitters’ counts, I’ll try and let it go a little bit, but at the same time, I’m not getting too big. I do get in trouble with that. I get too big sometimes, and that’s when I try to do too much, and I get into trouble.
“I’ve always had good zone awareness and I’ve been blessed with good hands, and I take pride in not striking out a lot. I know the game’s changing, but putting the ball in play, putting pressure on the defense, it’s huge. I try to be in the right mindset and let my hands work. It seems like every home run I’ve hit is almost an accident.”
Black noted that he didn’t rank his arm among his top tools, at least in part because of last May’s procedure. It’s still a work in progress, but the 6-foot-2, 190-pound infielder is where he hoped he’d be with his arm at this point in his recovery.
“Obviously your shoulder is never going to be the same again after surgery,” Black said. “I was always that kid who would just show up and barely warm up and just get right to it and start throwing right away, but now I have an extensive warmup. It honestly gave me a great perspective. I take care of my body now, just changed a lot of things.
“I’ve always had a pretty good arm. The shoulder surgery definitely hurt it a little bit at first, but I’m only (11 months) out right now, and … with time, it’s going to get better. I can’t force it because that’s when more injuries happen, and I’ve been smart about it, the coaching staff has been smart about it—keeping me healthy and building back up correctly.”
Beyond his extensive warmup, Black has incorporated more long toss into his regular throwing routine, and he’s worked through a Driveline-type program. Though he’s played more second base recently, the arm was getting a lot of work at the start of the season from third, and Black continues to make sure to maintain that versatility.
“My velo’s back and everything, my arm feels strong, but the big thing is day in and day out, the stamina, recovering properly,” he said. “At the beginning of the season I was nine months out (of surgery), and the velo was back, it was playing well. The day-to-day recovery was tough, and learning how to take care of that was huge. It plays well over there, but the recovery was tough.”
Black played second base his freshman year after playing shortstop for the majority of his high school days. He moved to third at the beginning of his sophomore year, and has played both sides of the infield this year.
“It’s definitely an adjustment,” the 20-year-old said. “The angles are totally different, but I’ve worked really hard over there. Defensively, the big thing is consistency—becoming more consistent. I’m athletic, but the big thing is going to be continuing to work hard and just improving on consistency everywhere.”
“I’ve been blessed with speed, but it’s something I’ve really had to work hard for,” he said. “It started coming on late in my high school days. I wasn’t fast early on, but I got with some good people and improved my form and everything. But the biggest thing is being more aggressive on the basepaths. My freshman year I didn’t feel comfortable stealing bags, I had eight.
“I’m pretty fast but it’s something I want to improve on. It could definitely take my game to the next level, because I know I’m capable of stealing bags and being a threat out there. This summer, going through surgery, that was what I focused on for three months because I couldn’t pick up a bat, couldn’t pick up a ball. I found myself working on speed pretty much all summer. I can definitely improve on it, I’ve worked hard, and it’s a matter of feeling comfortable and confident.”
Black has embraced multiple methodologies in the art of stealing, but has found one of the most helpful attributes for swiping bags is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and understanding when the time is right.
“The new-school idea, where you hop back and forth, that’s what we use here for stealing bags,” Black said. “We have both the new-school format and the old-school format, where old school is getting your 12-foot lead and getting a jump, but I didn’t really feel comfortable with that my freshman year. And seeing guys’ moves, trying to steal bags and get thrown out, that’s huge too.
“Every fall we encourage our guys to run as much as possible, we don’t care if we get thrown out, because the more you push the envelope, you’re going to feel comfortable. So continuing to be relentless, feeling comfortable, seeing guys’ moves, seeing when’s a good time to go, like 2-1, maybe there’s a curveball coming, that kind of stuff. It’s a big thing and I think it gets overlooked a lot. You see guys all the time who aren’t the best runners but they’re stealing a lot of bags. That’s something I could definitely improve on.”
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“The stat I’m most proud of is probably my on-base percentage,” Black said. “It’s another thing that’s kind of overlooked. There are a lot of times when you’re not doing well and you can still contribute good at-bats and find ways to get on base. I’m pretty good at that. There are always going to be peaks and valleys, but if you’re putting up good at-bats and finding ways to get on even when you’re not swinging it, it’s huge.
“I do have good pitch recognition, and that plays into it, but a lot of it has to do with competing. Getting into the box and not giving in to a guy. Never giving an at-bat away, when you’re down early in the count, you’re going to battle.”
The hit tool has started to translate to some “accidental” power for Black, which could see his profile shift as he moves forward, but for now his priorities remain the same.
“I’ve always been a gap-to-gap guy, and the power’s just come,” he said. “It’s something I’ve worked hard on, spinning the ball, and putting on good weight, building strength has been huge. But every at-bat, I’m sitting gap-to-gap, depending on the arm, and just trying to let the ball get deep. If a guy hangs a curveball and I get my hands to it at the correct launch angle, it’s going to go, but I’m never trying to deposit a ball.”