Major League Baseball had 7.2 percent Black players on its Opening Day rosters. Out of those players, there’s only a handful of Black pitchers and even fewer Black starting pitchers. Despite those low numbers, there’s a glimmer of hope for the future as MLB has experienced a rebirth of sorts with a group of young, Black starting pitchers who are making an impression in the Bigs.
The last to win 20 games was David Price in 2012. CC Sabathia did it before him in 2009. They are among just 15 Black pitchers in baseball history to reach that win total in a single season. They are known as the “Black Aces.”
Thanks to the diligence and dedication of MLB’s diversity programs, MLB has experienced a rebirth as it pertains to young, Black arm talent. A group of starting pitchers that are making an impression on the Major Leagues has emerged.
Marcus Stroman (Age 31, Chicago Cubs)
Marcus Stroman is the elder statesman of the melanated mound marauders at age 31. Stroman secured a $71M bag to lead the Cubs’ staff after a stellar season with the Mets where his 33 starts and 3.02 ERA proved he was a workhorse capable of producing quality starts and keeping the ball in the park.
This season, Stroman got off to a rocky beginning in his new Wrigley Field digs, surrendering 13 runs in his first 13.1 innings pitched. His last two starts have been more indicative of Stroman’s abilities, surrendering just two runs over 13 innings.
Stroman was scratched from his last start before Sunday night’s 7-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cubs have placed him on the injured list without a designation. That move is normally reserved for COVID-19 related issues.
When he’s healthy and in the groove, there are few architects on the mound like the Stro Show.
Triston McKenzie (Age 24, Cleveland Guardians)
The 24-year-old Cleveland Guardians flamethrower from Brooklyn has been living up to the anticipation that surrounded him entering this season after a brief rookie stint that showed flashes of greatness.
McKenzie is 2-2 with a 2.76 ERA and 30 Ks in 29.1 innings for a Guardians squad that is in the thick of the AL Central division race. “Dr Sticks” stands 6 feet 5 and rains down on hitters with a vengeance and array of “Really powerful stuff, really violent,” Cleveland catcher Luke Maile says. “To call pitches for a guy like that is awfully fun because even when he’s got something else in mind, you really can’t go wrong when he executes well.”
When McKenzie takes the mound there’s always a possibility that you’ll see an all-time dominant performance. That’s what makes him lethal and potentially great. Whereas Stroman has an elite grasp of his tools, McKenzie is still harnessing his.
Josiah Gray (Age 24, Washington Nationals)
The rookie has been a bright spot for the last place Washington Nationals, who are in the middle of a rebuild after winning that improbable World Series in 2019.
Gray has been consistent and is 4-2 with a very respectable 3.45 ERA. He has ascended to the face of a staff that once had three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and former phenom Stephen Strasburg leading the show.
The 24-year-old Gray from New Rochelle, New York, is tied for the MLB lead in wins and those wins have accounted for nearly half of his team’s 10 total wins.
Quite a burden for a 24-year-old to carry, but Gray seems ready for it. The warmup innings he enjoyed late in the 2021 season have proved to help him hit the ground running.
Taylor Hearn (Age 27, Texas Rangers)
Hearn isn’t as heralded as the other Black Knights of baseball on this list. He toiled in middle relief the first few seasons of his young career before earning a starting position in the Texas Rangers rotation.
Hearn has been struggling as a starter, same as his team. His 6.53 ERA reflects the pitching struggles of a Rangers club that is 11-15 and in fourth place in a five-team American League West division.
Texas spent hundreds of millions in the offseason on a new infield, bringing in Marcus Semien and Corey Seager. The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder is part of a talented group that has time to turn the season around.
Hunter Greene (Age 22, Cincinatti Reds)
The long-anticipated Major League debut of Cincinnati’s Hunter Greene finally arrived and the golden arm No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 MLB draft has had flashes of the potential and elite raw tools that scouts project will lead to a great career.
His team is just historically bad (5-23) so it’s not the ideal situation for a young pitcher trying to find his way in the league.
Greene came out of the chute throwing flames in his second career start at Dodger Stadium. He broke the Major League record for most pitches thrown over 100 mph in a game (39), finishing the 5.1 inning outing with six K’s, and only allowing two runs against one of the baseball’s best lineups.
On the other hand, Greene’s allowed a league-high 10 homers in his five starts, which he will address as he develops.
Taijuan Walker (Age 29, New York Mets)
Taijuan Walker helped Marcus Stroman keep the Mets in the NL East race last season while ace Jacob deGrom nursed an injury. Walker’s first half of the season earned him an All-Star nod. He struggled in the second half along with the Mets, who spiraled out of contention.
The 29-year-old Walker has found a home in New York, and after missing his first couple of starts this season with an injury, he is back in the swing of things and helping the Mets, who have the best record in baseball at 20-10.
Watch these Black pitchers. They are all capable of creating electric moments and will play important roles in the success of their respective teams.