Pirates, Huntington fill three key positions
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No sooner had word begun circulating yesterday throughout the resort hotel that houses baseball's general manager meetings in Orlando, Fla., than a trio of cell phones began ringing and vibrating in Neal Huntington's suite.
Those phones belong to Greg Smith, the Pirates' new scouting director, Kyle Stark, their new player development director, and Bryan Minniti, their new director of baseball operations.
All three were named to their new positions yesterday by Huntington, the Pirates' relatively new general manager.
"There have been about 37 calls for Greg, 54 calls for Kyle and 15 for Bryan," Huntington said. "A lot of people want to come to work for the Pittsburgh Pirates."
Smith, Stark and Minniti certainly do, although Minniti, a Pitt graduate, already did. He received a promotion from being their coordinator of baseball operations.
Smith, 41, and Stark, 29, will have the higher profiles -- at least to Pirates fans.
Their charge will be to upgrade and deepen a minor-league system that seems woefully thin throughout, but especially in the lower reaches.
"This is a great day for me," Smith said.
Smith, who has 16 years of scouting experience, spent the previous 11 years with the Detroit Tigers. Most recently, he was a special assignment scout for three years after being the Tigers' scouting director for eight years.
He doubled as Detroit's player development director for three years (2000-02) in that span.
Under Smith's watch, the Tigers took pitcher Justin Verlander with the second overall pick in the 2004 draft. Verlander was the American League rookie of the year in 2006.
Baseball America rated Smith's 2002 draft as the strongest in the major leagues that year. That draft included outfielder Curtis Granderson (third round) and relief pitcher Joel Zumaya (11th round).
"He's a tremendous guy and real good with player evaluation," said Bruce Tanner, a former Pirates bullpen coach and minor-league pitching coach who's an advance scout for Detroit. "He's pretty darn sharp."
Smith has a chance to make an almost immediate impact on the Pirates' roster soon. The Pirates have the second overall pick in June's draft.
Smith, a 1988 Vanderbilt graduate, could have the chance to draft another Vanderbilt product. The Commodores feature left-handed hitting shortstop/third baseman Ryan Flaherty, a junior who's expected to go high in the draft.
The Pirates drew heavy criticism earlier this year for passing on catcher Matt Wieters and taking left-hander Daniel Moskos with the fourth pick overall. Though the Pirates insisted money wasn't the problem, many people felt otherwise.
Does Smith think he'll have the freedom to draft a player he and his staff deem second overall in June?
"Absolutely," he said. "I feel very confident that we'll be able to take the best player available."
During his tenure with the Cleveland Indians, Stark assisted in all areas of scouting, player development and major-league operations. For the past two years, he was assistant player development director and oversaw the team's scouting efforts on the Pacific Rim.
He also coordinated Cleveland's advance scouting operation.
"He was loved by the Cleveland major-league staff," Huntington said. "He was the guy the major-league staff went to [for advance scouting reports]. He's an extremely talented young executive with a very high upside."
Stark graduated from Ball State in 1999, received a law degree from the University of Toledo in 2002 and a master's degree in business administration from St. Bonaventure in 2004.
Minniti, 27, is a seven-year veteran of the Pirates' front office. In his new role, he'll be in charge of managing major-league rules and regulations, along with waivers and other transactions.
He'll also assist Huntington in preparation and negotiation for salary arbitration cases and contract negotiations for players with less than three years of big-league service time.
In addition, he'll be responsible for front-office information technology programs.
"He was due an opportunity to expand his role," Huntington said.
NOTES -- Huntington said the Pirates probably will do without an assistant general manager for as long as a year. "I want a person who could have a significant impact," he said. ... Negotiations continue with former Pirates manager Chuck Tanner so he can be added to the front-office staff, perhaps as a senior adviser. "We need to try to get resolution as quickly as possible," Huntington said. Tanner said yesterday he would welcome the chance to sit down with Huntington and president Frank Coonelly and finalize his hiring. ... More possibilities for new manager John Russell's coaching staff include Philadelphia Phillies minor-league hitting instructor Don Long and former Pirates minor-league manager Marc Bombard as the pitching coach.
First Published November 8, 2007 12:00 am