11/25/08 6:15 PM EST
Bucs exploring new talent pools
Club thinking outside box in search of undiscovered prospects
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
It's not necessarily new in the sense that it is unique across the baseball landscape, but it's certainly a newly revised plan for a Pittsburgh organization that had lacked a broad scouting perspective before the ascension of the current regime.
The idea is to find talent everywhere -- to better tap into the international markets that have been booming for a while, while also searching fertile talent areas that have yet to draw league-wide interest.
The emphasis on international signings and development was first highlighted by the organization's plans to build a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. Those plans were laid out in January, and the academy is still on target to open in the summer.
Broadening their presence in Latin America, however, was just the first targeted international endeavor. As Smith explained on Tuesday -- one day after the organization signed pitchers Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh, the first players from Indian ever signed to a contract by an Major League team -- the groundwork is being laid for the Pirates to have a presence worldwide.
"That signing was a little outside the box, obviously," said Smith, who joined the Pirates last November. "We have got to be mindful that there is a whole world out there. We've got to set our sights on acquiring talent wherever we can."
Literally, nowhere seems to be off limits.
Prior to the signing of Singh and Patel, the Pirates signed a 16-year-old shortstop out of South Africa. Pirates scouting supervisor Jack Bowen had discovered Mpho Ngoepe after Smith sent him to Italy to observe an international tournament.
It was a last-minute trip of sorts, Smith now explains, but so are many when it comes to scouting overseas.
"The international market is something that can change by the day," Smith said. "You never know when someone might come available or when there will come up a trip that you have to take. ... We all have passports just in case."
Those passports came into play earlier this month when Smith traveled to the Dominican Republic to observe 19-year-old Cuban phenom Dayan Viciedo as he worked out in front of Major League scouts.
Smith confirmed that the Pirates did make an offer to the Cuban third baseman, though Viciedo's agent said late last week that his client would be signing with the White Sox.
With the Pirates making strides in their Latin America scouting endeavors, the question becomes whether the same progress is being made in the Pacific Rim. Currently it's still an area that Smith and Huntington are evaluating.
"It's a work in progress," Smith said of the Pirates' plan to show a more vested interest in signing Asian players. "You can't just go in immediately and get going. You have to formulate a plan, and that's something we've been doing, especially over the last few months.
"You have to be a little visionary and proactive. That market can get very expensive in terms of travel and also then outbidding other clubs."
Smith said that part of the Pirates' vision is to establish a full-time presence in the Far East, with a full-time scout assigned to that area. But one of the biggest obstacles that the Pirates have in trying to sign players out of Asia is being able to offer the top-dollar contracts that these players are being offered from other clubs.
Take for instance the case of Junichi Tazawa. While the Pirates scouted Tazawa and were certainly interested in the free-agent pitcher, the Pirates were not in position to match offers such as the $6 million one that the Red Sox are believed to have made.
Bidding against free-spending teams is never going to be a winning game for the Pirates. As a result, while the organization certainly wants to have a presence in the Far East, it must also stay creative.
"We found someone in South Africa. We want to aggressively get into Europe," Huntington said. "We're looking to get back into Australia.
"We're not just throwing money blindly. We're expanding our presence and trying to find talent wherever it is."
This week, the hope is that the talent is in India. And if the organization did indeed strike gold in either Singh or Patel, the long-term benefits could certainly go well beyond those two arms.
"The Pirates still carry a ton of weight in Latin America because of Roberto Clemente," Huntington said. "If things go well, this could absolutely open a lot more doors over [in India]. Only time will tell."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.