The big event during get-away day of the winter meetings was the Rule 5 draft. The Pirates picked up a big lefty, lost a big lefty, and added three Latino arms to their minor league arsenal.
> The Bucs selected LHP Donnie Veal from the Cubs with the fourth pick of the Rule 5 draft.
The 24-year-old Veal spent 2008 at AA Tennessee, where he went 5-10 with a 4.52 ERA in 29 starts while being named to the Southern League mid-season All-Star team. He also recorded a total of 123 strikeouts, which ranked fourth among Southern League hurlers.
Veal was originally selected by the Cubs in the second round of the 2005 draft. In 2006, he was named the organization's Minor League Pitcher-of-the-Year along with Rich Hill, and was ranked by Baseball America as Chicago's second-best prospect.
He features a low-90s heater with a decent change and a work-in-progress curve. As with so many other Pirate reclamation projects, he can't hit the broad side of a barn with a pitch, and his walk rate has kept him buried in the minors.
In his four year minor league career, Veal has walked 256 batters in 469-2/3 innings. He's also struck out 476 batters, and that's the stat that caught the Pirate staff's attention. With those kind of K and BB numbers, we can only imagine how quickly his pitch count hits the roof in games.
Our guess is that Pittsburgh plans to drop him from the rotation and work him out of the pen for now. The Bucs will see if he can stick as a LOOGY and replace John Grabow in spirit if he gets moved to another team during the winter.
If he makes it through the season, Veal will probably spend some time in a winter league and 2010 at Indy, where the Pirates will try to flip him back to a starting role.
Wouldn't it be sweet if he turned into another Bob Veale?
> Ah, but there's a price to pay in Rule 5. Pirate LHP Kyle Bloom was claimed by the Tigers in the 8th round. We suppose all that Jack Wilson talk led them to scouting the system a little, and they stumbled onto Bloom, who was steady at Altoona and pitched lights-out in Hawaii.
We've read that the pitching-challenged Tigers may try to plug him into the back end of their rotation, replacing Kenny Rogers. At worse, they'll use him as a long man and spot starter.
Bloom, btw, was the only Pirate farmhand selected during the three phases of the draft, a league commentary on the strength of the Pittsburgh organization today.
> In the minor-league segment of the draft, Pittsburgh added 22-year old LHP Andres Santos from the evil empire. He went 3-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 13 games, nine as a starter, striking out 49 in 48-2/3 innings in 2008 with the DSL Yankees.
Then RHP Rafael Quintero joined the club via Cleveland. He posted a 5-1 record with one save, a 1.36 ERA, and 48 strikeouts in 23 outings covering 46-1/3 innings while walking 5 with the DSL Indians. The 21-year old is an interesting story, as he's a converted infielder and should have a lot of upside as a pitcher.
Finally, Pittsburgh took RHP Gerardo Esparza from Seattle. Esparza went 4-5 with one save and a 1.81 ERA in 15 games, 13 as a starter, in 2008 with the VSL Mariners. Esparza made 15 appearances, with 13 starts, in the VSL, striking out 59 and walking 22 in 69-2/3 innings. Tomorrow is his 21st birthday.
We'd expect with their background that they'd start in one of the Pirates A clubs, with the hope that one or two of them can make the jump to Altoona sometime during the 2009 season.
> Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette mentioned the rarity of picking up Rule 5 players from Latin America, and how it came about from the Pirate's end.
And we're wondering, with the influx of Latino's, a stress point for the new suits, if it isn't time to bring a couple of Latin American coaches into the system?
> Jenifer Langosh of MLB.com reports that "The Pirates should know on Friday whether or not free agent Ramon Vazquez will accept a two-year, $4 million offer from the Pirates. Vazquez's agent, Melvin Roman, confirmed that the two sides are in negotiations, and that the Pirates are currently the front-runner to land the utility infielder.
'We are in very serious discussions,' Roman said. 'He should have a decision made by [Friday], and right now it's 90 percent that he'll be signing with the Pirates.'"
The well-traveled 32-year old Puerto Rican native has suited up for five teams in his eight year career. He can play all four infield positions, though he's spent most of his time recently at third. Vazquez has also logged a lot of innings at short and second.
He hit .290 for Texas last year, with 6 HRs and 40 RBI in 300 ABs. Vazquez is a lifetime .257 batter, and an experienced utility guy to anchor the bench. What's held the left-handed hitter back is his terrible splits at the plate - he's a career .273 hitter against RHP, but just a .195 batter against southpaws.
Vazquez made $810K last year, so if the numbers have been reported correctly, he's hit the jackpot, relatively speaking.
> The Pirate suits left the Bellagio to head home, and Jack Splat is still a Bucco. The Twins just signed Nick Punto to a two-year deal, so that's one less customer.
The Bucs no doubt did some under the radar groundwork while schmoozing with the MLB decision makers regarding him, but Wilson may yet be the 2009 opening day shortstop for the Pirates. That would be a Ripley moment.