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Healthy and motivated, Black on the verge of the big leagues

Tyler Black Milwaukee Brewers Tyler Black - Getty Images

TORONTO — Three years ago, Tyler Black was getting ready for his draft year, just hoping to stay healthy and impress scouts enough to get picked.

Now, coming off the best season of his short professional career, the Toronto product is on the verge of the big leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers.

With that opportunity sitting in front of him, Black left for Arizona this week, where the 23-year-old infielder will set up shop early at the club’s facilities ahead of spring training starting in about four weeks.

“I’m going into spring training competing for a job, no doubt, but at the end of the day whatever happens, happens,” Black said. “There’s a lot of uncontrollables in baseball I’ve realized, so I’m just going to go do my thing and focus on what’s gotten me to this point and, hopefully, the cards play out in my favour.”

Since being selected 33rd overall back in 2021, Black’s rise has been fairly quick, but it hasn’t been without bumps in the road.

With an overall slash line of .279/.415/.465 and 23 home runs and 73 steals across his 213 games, the numbers have always been there for Black, but injuries — including a fractured shoulder and a broken thumb in 2022 — have slowed him at times.

“Honestly, since I got drafted it’s been a rollercoaster ride,” Black said. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs. I got drafted and kind of struggled in pro ball early on and got hurt and everything, but the past year and a half has been really good, I’ve been kind on the field staying healthy.”

The 2023 season couldn’t have gone much better.

Black started the season at Double-A, slashing .273/.411/.513, while also stealing 47 bases in just 84 games.

Not only was Black adjusting well to his third position in three years at third base, but he was doing more damage, too, with 14 homers, after hitting just five in his first two seasons combined.

He finished out the year with a promotion to Triple-A and four more homers across 39 games for a total of 18 across 558 trips to the plate.

In the end, Black was one of only three minor leaguers last year to produce at least 18 homers, 25 doubles and 55 steals.

After losing most of 2020 to labrum surgery while in college and then missing a good portion of 2022, staying healthy was the key.

“Honestly, that was my main goal,” Black said. “You always try to gain an edge and you train so hard to gain an edge and try to be the best player you can be, but I really realized at the end of the day you can go as hard as you want, train as hard as you want and be ready as much as you want, but if you’re not on the field, none of that matters.

“I really kind of changed my priorities a little bit. I just kind of focused on how to stay on the field and it really helped me a lot. I think I got into 125 games and through that I learned a lot. In baseball, I’m still kind of young I feel like in terms of my experience, so the more I can play the better I’m going to be at the end of the day.”

The power surge was no accident, either.

“I’d definitely I’d say I’m more well-rounded, but I kind of made that adjustment last year I’d say,” Black said. “I wanted to hit for more power and I’ve kind of found ways for more that work. Like I’ve said, experience has been so big and the more I play the more I can kind of tap into that power, and I want to be the most well-rounded hitter I can be — power, speed, contact, everything offensive profile-wise.”

Lauded for his hit tool and plate discipline from the left side, the two questions coming into the draft were what position would Black play and how much power will he hit for?

He’s still in the process of answering both, but so far, so good.

After playing second base and centre field his first two seasons, Black settled in at third base last year and then dabbled at first to end the season.

“I kind of struggled at first with the reads and everything because obviously I was on the other side of the infield playing second base,” Black said of the hot corner. “But I’d probably say a third of the way through the season I started to dial in over there [at third base] and feel really good. The one thing I noticed is you can take all the fungoes you want and practise as much as you want, but in a game it’s totally different. I think I played 100 games at third and that experience was just huge for me. I experienced failure, I experienced success and I’ve seen plays that I’ve never seen before.”

Brewers GM Matt Arnold has said Black will be competing for time in spring training and both corner infield spots, and one look at the depth chart and the names Jake Bauers and Andruw Monasterio would say Black has a very good chance to make an impact early on this season.

It’s been his father, formerly moustachioed broadcaster Rod Black, getting him dialled in at their family home in Toronto this winter.

“Definitely since I’ve been home, I’ve given his rotator cuff a good workout,” Black laughed. “He’s been throwing batting practice to me and my brother about three or four times a week — he’s still got it.”

And one thing Black still has is motivation.

It’s interesting to reflect back on the 2021 MLB Draft two-and-a-half years later.

The Blue Jays selected right-handed pitcher Gunnar Hoglund, who they used as the key piece in the package to trade for Matt Chapman, at pick No. 19.

Fourteen picks later, Black was selected.

The draft is a complete crapshoot and Black’s somewhat limited athletic profile didn’t really scream top 20 pick, but the Jays’ current needs and Black’s skill set align almost perfectly now.

It’s funny how that works.

Black has not forgotten that night.

“I pretty much remember everyone who had a pick in front of where I was picked and where it was,” Black said. “I’m so happy to be in the situation I’m in. I couldn’t be with a better organization, honestly, and in terms of development I feel like they’ve done a great job with me and just letting me be free, letting me be myself, while still kind of guiding me the right way into what I need to be. I’m really happy with Milwaukee, but I remember that draft night very vividly, for sure.”

Healthy and motivated.

That’s usually a very good recipe for success.