Leading up to the 2011 season opener on Friday, Feb. 18 at No. 20 College of Charleston, UKathletics.com is rolling out eight individual player feature stories. Today's feature is on UK senior shortstop Taylor Black.
Junior college shortstops just don’t step into the Southeastern Conference and succeed all that often and certainly not immediately.
So when UK senior shortstop Taylor Black locked down the job in the preseason of 2010 and went on to hit 11 homers and bat .270, it was a pleasant surprise.
After two-year starting shortstop Chris Wade departed Lexington for the Florida Marlins organization after the 2009 season, UK’s coaching staff went looking for a new star shortstop. They found their man in Black, who had just completed his lone year at Spartanburg Methodist after a freshman All-America season at Charleston Southern in 2008.
“Well, we really didn’t think we were in need of a junior-college transfer and we got to the end of early fall practice and through the spring, and Chris Wade just really started coming on,” UK assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Brad Bohannon said about recruiting Black. “We were concerned that we may lose Chris to the draft. We got Taylor’s name. I talked to him and he had a bunch of offers from all of the mid-majors you could think of. He said ‘Coach, I want to play in the SEC’. Coach (Brian) Green went down to see him and he committed about two days later. It’s pretty rare that you sign a player that late and he ends up being such a good player and he has been great for us.”
A native of Easley, S.C., Black stepped into the lineup and produced, but that production didn’t come without the typical early struggles of a junior college transfer.
Through the first 12 games of the year, Black was batting .182 with eight errors in the field, owning just five runs, one double, five RBI and a 1-8 walk-strikeout ratio. On a Friday, during UK’s series sweep over IPFW and on the final weekend of non-conference play, UK head coach Gary Henderson gave Black the day off, starting Neiko Johnson.
“Yeah, Taylor is tremendously talented and I can remember that when he got that day off, there wasn’t any bad body language, there was nothing,” UK assistant coach Brian Green said about giving Black the day off vs. IPFW. “He just took the day off and he knew why he was taking the day off. It was that he needed to not play today. We gave him the opportunity to watch and show him that he belonged out there. He turned into one of the best infielders in the second half of the season if you look at the statistics. He did a great job and that was a big benching. It really turned him around.”
After that day off, Black was on fire, batting .290 the rest of the year, with 11 homers and 32 RBI, ranking fourth in the SEC with 10 roundtrippers in league play and batting a stellar .300 in conference action. He got more consistent in the field and on the base paths as well, finishing the year ranking second in the SEC in assists, 11th in double plays and stealing 12-of-12 bases.
After establishing himself as one of the top hitters in the league, Black was a 28th round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals. The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder played in the top two collegiate leagues during the summer, joining UK junior outfielder Chad Wright on the Cotuit Kettlers, before transitioning to the Coastal Plains League, where he stole 28 bases in 22 starts.
Black elected to turn down the offer from the Cardinals to return to UK for his senior season. Now, after a year under his belt and having seen the rigors of the SEC, Black is primed for a special senior season.