Bucs sign pair of Indian hurlers
Patel, Singh earn contracts after being discovered at contest
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates, who have emphasized a need to find talent via every available outlet, have gone where no team has gone before.
On Monday, the Pirates signed two young Indian pitchers, 20-year-old right-hander Dinesh Patel and 19-year-old southpaw Rinku Singh, as non-drafted free agents. Both will participate in the team's Minor League Spring Training next year.
"The Pirates are committed to creatively adding talent to our organization," general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement. "By adding these two young men, we are pleased to not only add two prospects to our system but also hope to open a pathway to an untapped market.
"We are intrigued by Patel's arm strength and Singh's frame and potential," he continued. "These young men have improved a tremendous amount in their six-month exposure to baseball, and we look forward to helping them continue to fulfill their potential."
The story of Patel and Singh is one that is made for the movies. Both were discovered while participating in India's Million Dollar Arm challenge that began last December. The event was designed to find the country's most powerful and accurate arm and had more than 30,000 participants.
The contest was the idea of JB Bernstein, a marketing agent best known for representing Barry Bonds. The contest was simple: The winner would be the person who could throw 85 mph or higher and consistently for strikes.
In addition to handing out a $100,000 cash prize to the winner of the contest, organizers also promised the winner training in the United States to prepare him to be scouted by Major League clubs.
Singh emerged as the winner of the country-wide contest despite having no previous baseball experience before entering the competition. However, a Major League scout was also intrigued with Patel, who threw harder but with less accuracy. As a result, Patel was offered the chance to come to the U.S. to train as well.
After the competition ended, Singh and Patel came to the U.S. to train with University of Southern California pitching coach Tom House. All that work built up to a Nov. 12 tryout, when both players threw in front of approximately 20 Major League baseball scouts with the hope of earning a Spring Training invitation. The two pitchers both reportedly threw in the low-90s at the tryout.
"They still have to learn how to play the game," House told MLB.com after the tryout. "Their talent is the upside, but it's going to take them a while to learn how to play. It's not going to take much to get them to sign, either. If you're looking at it as an organization, you can really develop these kids.
"I know they can pitch, but we have to teach them how to play the game. It's well worth the risk."
Singh and Patel were javelin throwers in high school. They have begun to learn English by watching Baseball Tonight since arriving in the U.S. They are also taking online courses to continue their studies of the language.
When it comes to the scouting reports, the 6-foot-2 Singh throws 89-90 mph and has a split-finger changeup pitch. The 5-foot-11 Patel throws a circle change and can reach 91-92 mph with his heater.
Monday's signings mark the Pirates' third international signing this offseason. Pittsburgh inked South African switch-hitting shortstop prospect Mpho Ngoepe, 18, earlier this fall. Ngoepe is expected to begin playing in the team's Gulf Coast rookie league next season.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.