Ian Snell will pitch for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic this spring, that nation's team announced yesterday.
Snell, 27, is coming off a season in which he went 7-12 with a 5.42 ERA. He is the first from the Pirates formally chosen for the 16-nation tournament that takes place March 5-23 in venues around the world, and his appearance will be his first in international play. A full Puerto Rican roster will not be announced until February, but Snell and catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez were early choices.
Snell was born in Delaware but has Puerto Rican ancestry on his father's side.
Other players in the Pirates' system certain to be invited to the Classic are reliever Dave Davidson of Canada and recently signed shortstop Mpho Ngoepe of South Africa. At the major league level, the best possibilities are two utilitymen, Ramon Vazquez for Puerto Rico and Luis Cruz for Mexico.
Elsewhere yesterday, catcher Raul Chavez, released by the Pirates earlier this month, signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. Chavez was Ryan Doumit's backup for most of 2008, and Pirates general manager Neal Huntington had expressed hope that he will return.
Chavez's departure cements that the backup job will belong to either Robinzon Diaz or Jason Jaramillo.
Also, the Pirates signed six players to minor league contracts, none with an invitation to the major league portion of spring training:
• Right-handed starter Sean Smith, 25, went 6-8 with a 5.57 ERA for the Class AAA affiliates of Cleveland and Colorado last season. He had 87 strikeouts and 59 walks in 20 starts.
• Right-handed reliever Lincoln Holdzkom, 26, had a 5.33 ERA, 29 strikeouts and 33 walks in 36 appearances for Boston's Class AAA affiliate.
• Outfielder Jonel Pacheco, 26, was re-signed after batting .288 with 12 home runs and 52 RBIs for the Pirates' Class AA affiliate in Altoona.
• Catcher/first baseman Zach Booker, 23, batted .227 for Cleveland's low Class A affiliate.
• Left-handed reliever Edwin Walker, 25, had a 1.79 ERA, 51 strikeouts and 33 walks in 35 appearances in the independent Frontier League.
• Right-handed reliever Eduardo Pena, 29, has not played in North America since 2002.
NOTES -- Jeff Andrews, the Pirates' pitching coach last season, was hired for that role with the Texas Rangers' short-season Class A affiliate in Spokane, Wash. ... The Florida Marlins are one of the three finalists in the bidding for free-agent reliever Derrick Turnbow, along with the Pirates. The third is not yet known.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com .