Justin Black is equal parts excited and nervous for next week's Major League Baseball draft.
And rightly so. The Billings Scarlets' standout and recent Billings West grad is expected to be selected in the first 10 rounds of the draft, which begins Monday.
"I'm super excited, and nervous, too," said Black by telephone on Thursday from the Denver airport. "I can't wait until my name gets called. That's going to be exciting. And a giant relief, too.
"And I'm nervous for the fact that once I am picked, it will become a negotiation process and then a decision on whether to sign or go to school."
"School" is the University of Nebraska, where Black has a full-ride scholarship waiting for him in the fall if he does not sign a pro contract. That decision will come sometime in the next few months, as July 17 is the new signing deadline for MLB draft choices.
In the meantime, Black will be patrolling center field for the Scarlets, beginning with Friday's game against the Billings Royals. The 7 p.m. game at Dehler Park marks the first meeting of the season between the two rivals, who met in the championship game of last year’s State AA Legion tournament.
"Who knows what will happen in the month or so, but I definitely want to play with the Scarlets as long as I can," said Black. "The most important thing for me is that I'm playing baseball somewhere … for now, that's with the Scarlets and that's fine with me."
Black's draft stock has risen considerably in the past few months. The 6-foot, 200-pound speedster throws right-handed and bats from both sides of the plate — Black is a natural right-handed batter who's recently become a switch-hitter.
Black has done private workouts for the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners. He was flying home from St. Louis on Thursday, and he was in Atlanta last week.
"These last two (workouts) both went really well," said Black. "I ran a 6.4 in the 60 and the next-fastest guy was 6.7, so I felt good about that. I threw pretty well and hit pretty well, too, so it was a good trip."
Black spent two weeks in Arizona in March playing with the Canadian-based Langley Blaze select team. The Blaze spent four days in Tucson playing against junior college teams, then spent a week in Phoenix playing against Class A and Class AA players in MLB camps, as well as a pair of games against the Dominican Republic national team.
Black said representatives from the Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies have traveled to Billings to visit him at his home, and several others visited him at his hotel in Arizona. Overall, he said he’s spoken to representatives from 28 of the 30 MLB clubs.
"It's been kind of surreal, but it's been fun," said Black of the scouting process. "I feel confident that I've put in the hard work and the time to improve as a player and get as many looks from scouts as I can.
"Right now all I can do is wait until my name is called. After that, it will be kind of a chess match with negotiations and deciding about school. I still talk to the Nebraska staff all the time … I love those guys and it feels great knowing that I have their support going into the draft."
Black also has the support of his Scarlets teammates and coach Adam Hust, who said he's glad to have Black in the lineup for now.
"Obviously, Justin is going to be a very tough guy for us to replace," said Hust. "He's a great kid and a great player … one of the most talented players we've had here in a while.
"For now, we'll just enjoy the time we have him here. And if he signs before the season is over, we'll deal with it and move on. We all want good things for Justin, and his experience has been good for the other kids in the program to see."
Scarlets catcher Nick Funyak, who's headed to the University of Puget Sound to play baseball, said he's eager to see what round Black will be selected in.
"It's exciting to see his hard work pay off," said Funyak, also a recent West High grad. "He's got a great work ethic and a great mindset … now it's just time to see where the chips fall in the draft.
"Hopefully he'll still be with us for a while. If he's here, that's great for us … and if he gets what he wants and signs with a team, that's great for Justin. Either way it's exciting."