Bucs nab hard-throwing lefty in Rule 5
Former Cubs pick Veal must overcome control issues
LAS VEGAS -- As they did last year, the Pirates are taking a gamble on a power arm plagued with recent control issues.
The club used the fourth pick of Thursday's Rule 5 Draft to select left-handed pitcher Donnie Veal from the Chicago Cubs' organization. The addition of Veal puts the Pirates one player short of filling their 40-man roster.
Veal, 24, will compete for a spot on Pittsburgh's 25-man roster out of Spring Training. If he makes it, Veal would then have to stay on the Major League roster throughout the season in order for the Pirates to retain him. If he does, the cost for the Pirates will be $50,000. Otherwise, the Pirates must offer him back to the Cubs and endure a total cost of just $25,000 -- a price that makes Rule 5 selections an affordable risk to take.
Veal's 2008 numbers would not suggest that he is Major League-ready, though general manager Neal Huntington is hopeful that work with new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan will right Veal's recent control problems. The 6-foot-4 lefty allowed 81 walks in 145 1/3 innings as a Double-A starter last season and finished the year 5-10 with a 4.52 ERA.
However, the Pirates have clocked Veal's fastball up to 95 mph in the past and believe that those control issues can still be remedied. It shouldn't be lost that, despite the control issues, Veal still finished fourth in the Southern League with 123 strikeouts.
"He's a high-profile guy that's a big, powerful left-hander with strength," Huntington said of Veal, who was a second-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. "Last year, he was one of the better left-handed pitching prospects, but regressed to the point where Chicago left him off the roster. A little bit of a lightening-in-the-bottle pick. Left-handers are hard to come by in the game, and we love the upside."
Though one of the higher-profile names heading into the Rule 5 Draft, Veal's stock may have dropped a bit after a rocky Arizona Fall League season. The lefty moved to a relief role and allowed 10 earned runs in nine innings. He struck out nine and walked 13.
If Veal is able to make the necessary mechanical adjustments next spring, the Pirates would try to carry him on their roster as a relief pitcher, much like they did with right-hander Evan Meek last year.
"It was definitely a change for me," Veal said of relieving when talking with MLB.com earlier this week. "It's completely different from knowing an exact set schedule. For me, it was a little nerve-wracking, because you never knew. You had to be ready every day. But I enjoyed it. Any way to get to the big leagues, it wouldn't be a problem."
However, it's important to note that outside circumstances weighed on Veal throughout a tumultuous campaign last year.
After losing his mother to cancer in November 2004, Veal lost his father in a scuba diving accident between the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Though Veal did not use his father's death as an excuse for his struggles in'08, Huntington alluded to the fact that the adversity Veal faced had an effect on his performance.
"It wasn't with me while I was pitching," Veal said. "It wasn't the reason for the inconsistency. I had my moments, but I didn't take it to the field. It was behind closed doors. The one thing I took to the field was baseball.
"It's been a long year, but stuff happens to everyone and you have to keep going and keep pushing."
The Pirates also selected three players in the Minor League portion of the Draft -- left-hander Andres Santos, right-hander Rafael Quinetero and right-hander Gerardo Esparza.
Santos and Quintero both pitched in the Dominican Summer League last season. The 22-year-old Santos, who was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2003, went 3-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 13 games (nine starts). Quintero, 21, made 23 relief appearances last year, finishing 5-1 with a 1.36 ERA. He struck out 48 and walked just five in 46 1/3 innings.
Esparza, 21, made 15 appearances (13 starts) in the Venezuelan Summer League and allowed just 14 earned runs in 69 2/3 innings. He struck out 59 and walked 22.
The Pirates organization lost just one player -- left-hander Kyle Bloom -- combined in the three phases of the Rule 5 Draft. Bloom was taken by the Tigers, who will have to keep the 25-year-old left-hander on their roster all next season or else offer him back to the Pirates.
Bloom, who went 5-8 with a 4.19 ERA with Double-A Altoona last season, turned heads in the Hawaiian Winter League when he made seven starts and posted a 1.50 ERA. He struck out 32 and walked 11 in 30 innings.
He was a fifth-round selection in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.