Pirates Hot Stove: Meek might inherit job

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It was a year ago this week that the Pirates claimed flame-throwing relief prospect Evan Meek in the Rule 5 draft, prompting him to fairly shout during an interview, "I can't wait to get to Pittsburgh!"

As it turns out, even after a tumultuous 2008 that included an abbreviated, abysmal major league debut, Meek might have been worth the wait.

"The kid has been throwing bullets all winter," Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo said. "And it's not just the velocity. He's pitching the daylights out of the ball. He's got it all going on."

Gayo has seen it first-hand. He also serves as assistant general manager for Mazatlan of the Mexican Pacific League, where the Pirates assigned Meek to play some winter ball, and he visited several times to witness a performance that included a 2.93 ERA, a .167 opponents' batting average, 14 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings and zero hits in his final nine appearances before wrapping up Nov. 20.

Winter meetings

What: Baseball's premier offseason event at which, historically, trades and big signings are consummated.

When: Tomorrow-Thursday.

Where: Las Vegas.

Tomorrow: PG baseball writer Dejan Kovacevic looks at what the Pirates might be doing this week.

There were eight walks, a sign that Meek's long-standing control issue has not been erased, but the dominance of his stuff -- regularly at 97 mph on the fastball -- more than overrode that.

"I thought his control was good enough," Gayo said. "He was pitching, man. He was doing what he wanted to with the ball."

General manager Neal Huntington sounds as satisfied with Meek's winter as with his dominant showing in the minors this past season -- 2.51 ERA, 51 strikeouts, 17 walks in 32 appearances for Class AAA Indianapolis and Class AA Altoona -- and made clear he will be in the major league bullpen mix next spring.

"Evan threw the ball well the remainder of season and again this winter in Mexico," Huntington said. "If he continues to have a productive offseason, shows quality stuff with control in spring training, he could very easily position himself to make our bullpen."

Buried treasure

• Management also is raving about another prospect Shelby Ford -- .285 with four home runs for Class AA Altoona this past season -- to the extent that he openly is discussed as the second baseman of the future.

• Under John Russell's new coaching alignment, first base coach Perry Hill, considered one of the game's best infield instructors, will handle the infield. Third base coach Tony Beasley, who did that this past season, will focus on baserunning. And bench coach Gary Varsho will handle the outfielders, a role that had been filled by former first base coach Lou Frazier.

• Outfielder Chris Duffy's departure from Mazatlan in October -- after just three games -- was as mysterious as his career with the Pirates. One morning, he bought his own plane ticket and simply left, not informing anyone until after he was back in the U.S. He said he was having trouble with the food, but management seemed to have a hard time digesting that. Duffy now is a minor league free agent and will not be back.

• Next frontier for the Pirates' on the international level is Taiwan. Gayo is flying there next week to examine the talent and begin the process of hiring a director for the region.

• Gold Glove voting is not released publicly, but a final tally of the National League winners -- obtained by the Post-Gazette -- shows that no one received more votes from the managers and coaches than Nate McLouth's 41. The rest: Carlos Beltran (40), Brandon Phillips (39), Jimmy Rollins (38), Shane Victorino (36), David Wright (35), Adrian Gonzalez (33), Greg Maddux (31) and Yadier Molina (29).

• Among bobbleheads in the works for next summer is a McLouth All-Star model, as well as one of Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm and others.

• How eager are the Pirates to sell tickets? Consider that there will be a special sale for individual games at PirateFest Jan. 23-25 -- yes, the opener, too -- rather than waiting for the standard first weekend in March.

• Only 68 days until pitchers and catchers report.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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