Hot Stove: Pirates' Rule 5 pick a project
Donnie Veal, the Pirates' Rule 5 draft pick, winds up during a bullpen session Friday in Bradenton, Fla.
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- If Donnie Veal makes the Pirates' roster as a Rule 5 draft pick, it will happen only if the team is able to rework his delivery in short order.
Veal, a 24-year-old left-hander, was considered the Chicago Cubs' No. 2 prospect just two years ago, blessed with a power arm and averaging a strikeout per inning in the minors. Trouble was, that power rarely was accompanied by control -- 154 walks in Class AA the past two seasons -- and the Cubs left him unprotected for Rule 5.
The Pirates claimed Veal in early December, with general manager Neal Huntington acknowledging his bid to make their bullpen would be "a project." But they did not fully grasp how much of a project until new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and minor league pitching coordinator Troy Buckley began working with him, including at the four-day minicamp that ended yesterday. His pitches showed plenty of zip all week, but his control issue was easy to detect with the occasional ball flying well over the catcher's head.
Now, Kerrigan and Buckley will try to create a more mechanical delivery, most of that focused on moving his hand farther from his head for an easier-to-achieve release point. And they do not have much time: Pitchers and catchers report to spring training Feb. 13, and the Pirates must decide before the season whether to keep Veal on the 25-man roster or offer him back to the Cubs for $25,000.
It might sound stressful for a young pitcher, but Veal makes it sound otherwise.
"To me, this is just getting back to basics," he said. "I'm more loose and free. I feel like I became too robotic. Nothing was natural. To me, you just throw the ball. It comes out of your hand, it feels good, and the result is a lot better. That's when I had my best success last year, when I minimized everything. Just pitch. Just be an athlete."
He was asked how he fell so hard in the Chicago system.
"Seeing other players move up while I stayed in one place, that hurt me a little bit," he said of spending the past two years with Class AA Tennessee. "Also, just making changes mechanically. You have one or two bad starts, and you try to change everything."
And how does he feel about doing so yet again?
"I'm excited about the opportunity to be here, to be honest. I'm not thinking about Rule 5 or anything like that. I just want to relax and pitch well."
• There will be no competition at third base this spring. Andy LaRoche, barring an unforeseen event, will be the starter. "We're going to give Andy a chance," Huntington said. LaRoche sounds ready: "I'm grateful that they believe in me."
• Kerrigan, plenty aware of his staff's reluctance to pitch inside in 2008, will have dummies standing in batter's boxes in spring training to help teach the art. Can it be taught at the top level? Some do not believe so. "Of course it can," Kerrigan said. So, why are some pitchers reluctant? "Because they haven't practiced it enough."
• Although Nate McLouth's multi-year extension talks remain dormant, those involving Paul Maholm are not.
• Doug Mientkiewicz said he was "blown away" by feedback he has heard and read from Pittsburgh fans urging the Pirates to re-sign him. Had he been received like this anywhere else? "Not this quickly," he said. "And I had a good year, but I didn't do what I thought I was capable of doing. My numbers were very average, at best. I should have had more home runs, more RBIs. But, that said, the way the people there took to me â€¦ I'm overwhelmed, floored, whatever words you can use to describe it. They get me. They understand me."
• The Pirates' Winter Caravan, which has increased from 20 to a record 30 stops this year, opens today at Seven Springs, from 3:30-6 p.m. Players appearing: McLouth, Maholm, Ryan Doumit, Sean Burnett, Andy LaRoche and Ross Ohlendorf. President Frank Coonelly, manager John Russell and the entire broadcast team will be there, too.
• Other stops this week: Cumberland, Md., and Clarksburg, W.Va., tomorrow; Charleston and Parkersburg, W.Va., Tuesday; Marietta, Ohio, and Wheeling, W.Va. Wednesday; and Washington, Pa., Thursday. Check pirates.com for details.
• Only 26 days until pitchers and catchers report.
First Published January 18, 2009 12:00 am