Spring Preview 09: Young pitchers from India hope to impress in camp

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This much both sides have agreed on: The Pirates signing two pitchers from India in November was about talent, not publicity.

Now, what Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel -- and probably more important, Pirates brass -- do with that talent in the next few months remains to be seen.

Training Camp

Pirates pitchers and catchers report to Bradenton, Fla., Friday to begin the journey that is the 2009 season. Before that happens, check out the Post-Gazette's spring training preview in Friday morning's editions. It will include a camp roster, spring schedule and story lines fans will want to follow during the countdown to opening day.

"This is not a joke," Singh said. "We are going to work hard."

Of the move, which spawned from Patel and Singh emerging from more than 30,000 entrants in a "Million Dollar Arm" contest in India in March, Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark said, "It falls in line with the decisions we have been making. We are not focused on making decisions to appease people, but to make this organization a consistent winner. Whether it is our trades, or the free agents we pursued, we have proven that the decisions we've made are to make the Pittsburgh Pirates a winning organization. Making this decision, we have that same goal in mind."

On Thursday, Singh, a 20-year-old left-hander, and Patel, a 19-year-old righty, got their first look at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., spending the morning touring the facility. The pair has been in the United States -- mainly in California working with University of Southern California pitching coach Tom House -- since May 5.

But Thursday provided their initial look into where they hope to impress Pirates officials when they take part in minor league camp this spring.

"It was very good, the Pirate City was very good," said Patel, who says his fastball has topped out at 93 mph in recent workouts in California. "The grounds were beautiful."

Beautiful, yes, but Pirate City for Patel and Singh will be a place to work as hard as they can to get noticed, in a baseball sense, even if it will be impossible for people to not notice them by virtue of being the first Indian-born players signed by a Major League club.

Don't expect the pair to rocket through the organization. More than likely they will participate in extended spring training once camp breaks and, perhaps, participate with the Gulf Coast League Pirates of the Rookie League.

"It is the same as if we signed two guys out of the Dominican [Republic] or Venezuela," Stark said. "It is going to be a long process, just as it would be for any young pitchers."

There is a little something more to it, though, because of the media attention Singh and Patel have received. Anyone would be hard pressed to find a pair of baseball players -- who have never played in a game in their lives -- who have had features done about them on ESPN's "Outside the Lines", in ESPN the Magazine, on CNN, in The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, The Australian newspaper and on SBS Sport in Australia.

There has been a request by the Associated Press to do something for the television arm of its operation, and ABC News is in the process of lining something up next week.

That said, there won't be a throng of media following Singh and Patel around, documenting every windup, delivery or step off as is commonplace when Japanese players make their way to America. The reason is simple: The two Indian players have a long way to go, and their interaction with major leaguers will be limited.

"We have received some requests," Pirates' media relations director Jim Trdinich said. "But, a lot of people think they are in [the] Major League camp and that is not the case. We've kind of told people that the best time to do something on these guys would be the first week of March, when everyone has a better feel for everything."

Patel and Singh are also going to spend the immediate future trying to get a better feel for everything.

"Right now, we are learning about everything," said Singh, who says his fastball been clocked at 90 mph. "We are playing the game and learning about everything. It will take more practice and more learning about baseball."

And then, just maybe ...

"I want to reach my goal of pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates," Patel said. "For these next years, it will be single-A or double-A and we will be learning.

"But we have developed already in just a short time and we didn't know anything about baseball. I think we can both do it, I think we can both, some day, pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates."

Colin Dunlap can be reached at cdunlap@post-gazette or 412-263-1459.


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