Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mining for Prospects: Untapped Markets

Dovydas Neverauskas hails from
baseball neophyte Lithuania
A few weeks ago, it became public knowledge that the Pirates signed Australian pitching Nick Hutchings back in November.  One of the interesting developments revealed by the signing was a relationship between Pirates and the Australian League team Adelaide Bite.  Pirates scout Tony Harris doubles as the Bite's manager.  Hutchings is also one of several players in the Pirates organization from Australia.  None of them are big-time prospects or high-profile international signings, but that may come.

Luis Heredia is a perfect example. The current Pirates top prospect and former international bonus baby - Heredia received a club record 2.6 million dollar signing bonus - came to Pittsburgh in part thanks to a prior relationship.  Pirates Latin American Scouting Director Rene Gayo had known Heredia for years prior to him becoming a Pirate.  Gayo steered him to sign with a Mexican team, Veracruz, knowing that the Pirates had ties with them.  The ties paid off as Heredia joined the Pirates organization just weeks after his 16th birthday. 

Heredia is the reward reaped for diligence by Gayo.  The Pirates diligence in searching for baseball talent around the globe, especially in unique locations, such as Australia.  Below is a list of several countries that apply and the players signed in each location. Hopefully, one of them will produce the next Luis Heredia and the Pirates will have the edge in signing him. 


The Pirates have tapped Australia, a developed country, for talent several times over the last few years.  They currently have 6 Australians in the organization, led by infielder Stefan WelchDylan Child, Wilson Lee, and Jackson Lodge have all spent at least a year in the organization while Nick Hutchings and Sam Kennelly signed this year.


Pitcher Aleksey Lukashevich signed with the Pirates back in July of 2010.  The then 16 year-old signed from Belarus.  The signing marked the first time that a person from Belarus inked a professional baseball contract with a major league organization, making the Pirates pioneers in Belarus. 


First baseman Dennis Hurtarte was signed back in the summer of 2011 out of Guatemala.  At the time he signed, one article indicated that Hurtarte was only the third Guatemalan ever to sign a professional baseball contract with a major league organization, despite the fact that the country resides in Latin America, the premier hotbed for international baseball free agents.  Hurtarte was evidently scouted and courted by several organizations, but chose to sign with the Pirates.



Pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas signed in July of 2009 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The then 16 year-old signed out of Lithuania, becoming the first player from his native country to sign a professional contract with a major league organization.  That officially made the Pirates pioneers in Lithuania.


Back in 2008, India held a Million Dollar arm contest. The Pirates agreed to sign both winners, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, making them the first two Indian men to sign a professional baseball contract with a major league organization.  Neither had played any baseball before the contest, a commonplace in India.  Instead, both were javelin throwers and several cricket players also competed in the contest.  Patel is no longer in the Pirates organization, but Singh continues to beat the odds and pitched for the West Virginia Power last year.


Under Neal Huntington, the Pirates have signed at least two players from the Netherlands, catcher Danny Aribas and corner outfielder Daan Cornelissen.  Cornelissen is no longer with the organization.  There are several players in major league baseball from the Netherlands, including some who have made it to the big leagues, but it's still a relatively untapped baseball market and the Pirates have made an effort to delve into it. 

South Africa

Just prior to the Pirates signing Singh and Patel, they also signed then 18 year-old Gift Ngoepe.  The Pirates scouted the South African when he played in a tournament in Italy.  Ngoepe became the first black South African to sign a professional baseball contract with a major league organization.  Ngoepe is probably the best prospect of the bunch in this article.