Beimel is back

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Joe Beimel had other offers from four other teams, but could not pass up the chance to rejoin his “hometown” club and play again for manager Clint Hurdle.

Beimel today signed a minor league contract with the Pirates and got an invite to spring training. If he makes the big league club — a good bet, considering the Pirates’ lack of lefty relievers — he’ll make $1.75 million with a chance for up to $300,000 in incentives.

Beimel is back
Beimel is back

Beimel, 33, grew up in St. Mary’s, Elk County. He was drafted by the Pirates in 1998 out of Duquesne University and made his big league debut with them in 2001.

“It’s nice to be coming back home,” Beimel said. “I grew up rooting for the Pirates, so if this is the year they turn it around, I want to be part of it. It would be really special for me and my family.”

Beimel is at his home in Los Angeles, where he trains in the offseason. Last summer, he bought a house in St. Mary’s and he plans to stay there at times during the season.

“I love PNC Park,” he said. “It’s by far the best park in the big leagues. It’s a great place to pitch. That’s another reason I signed with the Pirates.”

Beimel also has pitched for the Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals and Colorado Rockies. Hurdle managed the Rockies in 2009 when Beimel was there.

“I really respect him,” Beimel said.

Over 10 seasons in the majors, Beimel is 25-31 with a 4.16 ERA. He has made 532 career outings, including 23 starts (all with the Pirates in 2001-02).

“Back then, I didn’t really know what kind of pitcher I was,” Beimel said. “Now, I’ve learned how I can be successful. The best thing for me is to try to get a guy to put the ball in play early in the count. I’m gonna go right at guys, throw strikes and get them to put the ball in play.”

Beimel’s contract includes a clause that allows him to become a free agent if he’s not on the Pirates’ Opening Day roster. The Pirates offered him a major league contract, but he opted instead for the minor league deal because it had a larger payout. “It was worth the risk for me,” he said.

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Beimel deal almost done

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This afternoon, the Pirates held their annual hot stove luncheon with the local media. A few tidbits:

»»» GM Neal Huntington was not ready to announce a deal with free-agent reliever Joe Beimel. “We’re still working through some things,” Huntington said. But, based on info I’ve gathered from other sources, Beimel will get a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Also, he has an opt-out clause that allows him to become a free agent if he’s not on the Pirates’ Opening Day roster.

»»» Owner Bob Nutting said he’s happy with the team’s offseason moves — especially, he said, the hiring of manager Clint Hurdle. “We addressed clear needs on the field and a clear need in the clubhouse,” Nutting said. “We were able to strategically put in pieces of talent — there’s certainly an upgrade at first base (with Lyle Overbay) and an opportunity for Garrett (Jones) in right field. But the real impact we’re going to see is a cultural change in the clubhouse. We’re simply not going to accept anything less than a top performance and a focus on winning. More than anything else, that’s what this offseason demonstrated. There were tangible steps taken toward improving this organization through leadership and talent.”

»»» Right-hander Kevin Correia has begun the process of fitting in with his new teammates, but probably would like everybody to wear a name tag for the next few days. “It’s strange,” he said. “This has got to be one of the few teams where I’ve never played with anybody else on the team. I don’t know everybody.”

»»» At the lunch, Jose Tabata was rocking a black Steelers knit cap. That ought to totally win over the crowd the next couple of days at PirateFest.

»»» Pirates Charities will hold its inaugural Pirates 5K Home Run April 9 on the North Shore. The race/walk is open to runners of all ages and abilities, and all runners will get a t-shirt and free ticket to either the April 9 or April 10 game against the Rockies. You can register at www.pirates.com/5Khomerun.

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Farm system in middle of the pack

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ESPN.com analyst Keith Law, a respected MLB wonk and a friend of this blog, this week released his third annual list of organizational rankings. His top three farm systems are: 1. Kansas City (“arms coming out of their ears,” Law wrote), 2. Tampa Bay (“absolutely loaded”) and 3. Atlanta. Law’s cellar-dwellers are: 28. Chicago White Sox, 29. Florida and 30. Milwaukee (the first club to not land a single prospect on Law’s top 100 list).

The Pirates wound up ranked 21st, in Law’s opinion. He wrote: “This system consists of a few high-end prospects, including three teenage power arms, followed by a dropoff. The big investment in prep arms in 2009 hasn’t yielded any major prospects yet, although it’s early.”

Six Royals minor-leaguers are on Law’s Top 100 list. The Rays claim a whopping eight farmhands on the list. The Pirates have two — right-hander Jameson Taillon (No. 30) and catcher Tony Sanchez (63).

The Pirates stack up well against the rest of the NL Central. The Reds (No. 8 organization) have five players among Law’s Top 100 prospects, the Cardinals (No. 14) have three and the Cubs (No. 20) and Astros (No. 27) have one apiece.

Law gushed about Taillon’s potential — he “projects as an ace” and “the pure stuff and physicality are extremely exciting.” Law also gave kudos to Sanchez: “He’s got above-average power and a chance to hit for average at the same time, making him a fringe All-Star at that position. … I wouldn’t bet against him at this point.”

The Pirates’ third-best prospect is righty Luis Heredia, who just missed making the cut for Law’s Top 100. The Pirates signed Heredia last summer for a $2.6 million bonus, which is a record for a Mexican amateur player.

Law noted Heredia, “will sit in the low 90s (mph) already with a good feel for the fastball. He’s very well-developed physically for a 16-year-old, with a big frame and the potential to get heavy, which is more of a long-term concern.”

»»» If you have an insatiable need for farm system info, check out the Pirates Prospects 2011 Prospect Guide by Tim Williams. A copy landed in my mailbox the other day, and I’ve spent the past couple of nights thumbing through it. Tim (who runs the website www.piratesprospects.com) did a great job gathering stats and surveys on dozens of the club’s top minor leaguers. The book is available through is website.

»»» I’ll be blogging and Tweeting this weekend from PirateFest at the Lawrence Convention Center. Follow me on Twitter (@RobBiertempfel) for updates.

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McCutchen at home in Coors Field

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Andrew McCutchen’s best asset in center field is his speed. It allows him to play deep, overcome bad routes (his biggest and most frequently displayed shortcoming), chase down balls other fielders can’t get, and make runners think twice before taking an extra base when the ball does fall in.

With that in mind, I was not surprised by McCutchen’s answers when I asked him to name the toughest outfield and his favorite outfield in which to play defense.

“Toughest place? I’d have to say Detroit,” McCutchen said. “A lot of room to roam. You’d play back and the ball would still be 40 feet behind you. Colorado’s a huge field, too. But I love running where you don’t have to worry about the wall behind you, so I love Coors Field.”

»»» Ross Ohlendorf is on tour with the Pirates Winter Caravan for the third time in as many offseasons since joining the club. Sometimes, players may grumble about the long days and bus rides along dark, snowy back roads in the tri-state area. But Ohlendorf, who Monday morning visited patients and signed autographs for 2 1/2 hours at Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side, really seems to enjoy the Caravan.

“It’s nice to see the fans before we go (to Bradenton),” Ohlendorf said. “The fans who come out to events like this are the fans who really care about the Pirates and really like the Pirates. It’s nice to be around them.”

»»» While half of the Caravan crew was at AGH, the rest — Jose Tabata, Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones, bench coach Jeff Banister and first base coach Luis Silverio — stopped by Allegheny College in Meadville. The players had a brief workout with members of Allegheny’s baseball team. “It was a really cool experience,” said sophomore Frank Triozzi, who caught Hanrahan’s bullpen session. “Catching a major league pitcher is something that most people only get to dream about.”

If he reaches 5,000 Twitter followers by the start of spring training, Hanrahan has promised to give away the cleats he wore last year during the game in which he notched his 100th strikeout of the season. As of this morning, @Hanrahan4457 was up to 4,852 followers.

Caravan stops at AGH
Caravan stops at AGH

 

One last thing … in case you missed it, the A’s yesterday signed Andy LaRoche to a minor league deal with a spring training invite.

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Tabata beefs up, hoping for homers

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Jose Tabata told me this morning he weighs 212 pounds, which means that — assuming the media guide isn’t lying to me (cough cough) when it says he weighed 210 last year — he packed on all of two pounds this offseason.

Numbers lie. Tabata has bulked up noticeably … and it’s muscle, not fat. “He’s a beast,” one player said, glancing across the clubhouse as Tabata slipped into his workout gear.

“Yeah, I’m bigger,” Tabata said, grinning. “I worked out in the gym every day this winter. I want to be bigger and stronger. This year, my idea is to hit more home runs.”

Ah, yes, home runs. If you recall a story I wrote last March, GM Neal Huntington believes Tabata has more power than he’s shown so far. “Who knows what his ultimate ceiling is,” Huntington said back then. “But we think he’s certainly going to be in double digits — maybe in the 20s, and who knows where he goes from there as he continues to mature and develop.”

As a 22-year-old rookie last season, Tabata hit four homers in 441 plate appearances. In 2,088 plate apps over six seasons in the minors, he hit a total of 29 home runs.

“The power is there,” Tabata said. “I know it is. The ball was jumping off my bat in winter ball.”

In December, Tabata played 14 games for Caribes de Anzoategui in the Venezuelan Winter League. He hit .317 with one homer and a .439 slugging percentage in 57 plate appearances.

“It’s a good feeling,” Tabata said. “But I have to be careful not to let it change my swing. Sometimes, when you want to hit home runs, your swing gets real long. I can’t let that happen.”

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Hart, Yates throw bullpens

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Right-handers Kevin Hart (shoulder) and Tyler Yates (elbow), who both are rehabbing from surgeries, threw bullpen sessions this afternoon on day two of minicamp.

Both threw 25 pitches, all fastballs, under the watchful eye of pitching coach Ray Searage. “I like what I saw,” Searage told me. “Of course, their timing’s going to be off a little bit because they haven’t been on the slope for a while. Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic. What they did today gives us a good foundation. We’ll build on that. We’re on the right track.”

It was the first time Hart had thrown off a mound since May, when he had surgery to repair a torn labrum.

“It was pretty good,” Hart said. “I felt calm and relaxed and everything. It felt good to get on the mound.”

Yates had Tommy John surgery in July 2009, but had setbacks in May 2010 and again in October 2010. That second setback forced Yates to scrap his plans to play winter ball.

“He started throwing some breaking balls and that’s when the setback happened,” Searage said. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Today’s workout was the second time Yates had thrown off the mound since October.

“Hopefully, I’ll be game-ready by the first day of spring training,” Yates said. “If I’m a week behind, that won’t be too bad, either. Right now, I’m not worried about my velocity; it’ll come. My arm feels strong.”

Both pitchers will throw another 25-pitch session on Friday. Both also hope to be able to compete for big league jobs in spring training.

“We’ll take our time with it,” Searage said. “I’ll have a better idea in two or three weeks.”

»»» Jose Tabata played against Jorge Julio this offseason in the Venezuelan Winter League. “He looked good,” Tabata said. “He’s still a good pitcher.” Julio, 31, a right-handed reliever, has a 1.88 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings for Tiburones de la Guaira. The Pirates signed Julio, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2009, to a minor league deal without an invite to big league spring training — an indication that he must prove himself in Triple-A before management considers giving him a shot during the season.

»»» Matt Diaz, Lyle Overbay, Joel Hanrahan, Neil Walker and Ross Ohlendorf will conduct an hour-long roundtable chat tonight with a group of the Pirates’ top minor leaguers. “I have no idea what I’m going to tell them,” Ohlendorf said early this morning. “I’ll come up with something.”

»»» I was talking this morning with Josh Rodriguez, whom the Pirates claimed last month in the Rule 5 draft. “You’re a Rule 5 guy, too?” asked Evan Meek, who joined the Pirates in 2008. Meek offered to sit down sometime with Rodriguez and chat about what to expect.

This spring will be the first time Rodriguez, 26, attends big league training camp. Pitcher Daniel McCutchen grinned as he ambled over to offer some advice: “It’s pretty easy. You’re biggest job will be getting coffee every morning for me and Evan.”

»»» Kris Benson, whom the Pirates made the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1996, has retired. Benson, 36, went 70-75 with a 4.42 ERA in 206 games (200 starts). He battled intense shoulder pain the past three seasons and had three arm surgeries in his career.

»»» Class A State College will hold its annual SpikesFest on Feb. 12 at the Penn State Multi-Sport Facility. Manager Dave Turgeon and prospect Matt Hague are slated to attend.

»»» Jim Leyland, Lanny Frattare and Kent Tekulve will appear at the Washington Wild Things’ annual hot stove event at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Holiday Inn on Racetrack Road in Washington.

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Hurdle: ‘We’re going to do this together’

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Some highlights of manager Clint Hurdle’s presser this afternoon after the first round of minicamp workouts at Pirate City:

»»» Why he preaches an old-school message of preparation and routine: “It’s important from the first time we’re together to put some staples in place that we’ll revisit throughout the season. You don’t hear the term ‘new school’ very often; you hear ‘old school’ more frequently. In our situation, it’s very appropriate because we’re building upon scouting people, going out and finding players, player development. That’s the way we’re going to have to do things. We’ll add some extra parts, when appropriate, when we find good fits. I think the players need to hear a message from the manager that’s clean, clear and accurate.”

»»» The difference between minicamp and spring training: “Today, it was more eyes-on. We’re not doing any heavy-duty coaching right now. If we see something that needs to be addressed, we’ll address it. We’re not grading anybody out right now; that will start in spring training. Now, it’s about getting our feet underneath us, getting familiarized with personnel.

»»» The difference between being a coach (as he was last year with the Rangers) and the manager: “You’re in a role of leadership, even as a coach. But as the manager, I’m accountable for a very large portion of all the things that go on, on the field. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. When you’re a coach, you’ve got an area of heightened importance. Now, I’ve got to make sure my coaches have the freedom to coach, know the players and get them to know me. I want them to know I’ve got their backs. We’re going to do this together. I need to carry myself in a managerial fashion. I’m not here to be their friend; I’m here to manage the ballclub, first and foremost. I have to get this club up and running in a much better fashion than what we’ve been able to do in the past.”

»»» Does he worry about trying to do too much, too soon: “The one thing I want to do is get the men out on the field, watch and listen. I have to ask good questions. I have to rely upon my coaching staff to take care of their individual responsibilities with the players their in charge of. Really good men have gone before me here. We’re not going to be teaching a whole lot of revolutionary ideas. We’ve just got to get better at the fundamentals of the game. I think that is in place. I also think that when you come in from the outside … I’m sure these guys have made their calls on me and the new coaches. They want to know what you’re about, where you’ve been and things like that. I’ve had enough experience that during a game there’s not too much that’s going to get thrown at me that I haven’t already experienced as a player, coach or manager. Hopefully, I can be a sounding board. Hopefully, I can be someone who can continue to push ‘em, encourage ‘em and guide ‘em towards playing the game at a championship level. It’s not going to happen overnight, but there are going to be some staples in place that we’re going to get down early and they’re going to know what I do want from them.”

»»» Is he happy with the turnout (about 36 players, including nine who are not on the 40-man roster) for minicamp: “The one thing you can’t control in these camps, they’re voluntary. I had conversations with some of the guys. There will be some guys here part-time, some of them will be here full-time. I’ll work with the people who are here. It’s not going to be held against anybody who’s not here. There are different reasons some guys aren’t here. Some of the guys who aren’t here, they’ve been around a little bit longer, they know what’s at stake and they know what they need to do. I’m happy with the guys who are here. They guys that aren’t, we’ll get them tuned in and, not that they’re catching up, but we’ll get them on board and in place when they get here.”

»»» It it necessary to emphasize the simple stuff when a franchise is trying to rebuild: “We’re not starting over. I think there’s some good things in place. I’m trying to build upon the positives that already were here. The men who came before me have done some good things. The group that’s been here the past three years, Frank (Coonelly) and Neal (Huntington) and some of the coaches who were brought over, have done hard work. It just hasn’t come across on the playing field like we want it to. So, from that standpoint, we’re going to be professional. We’re not going to fear anything. I’m going to share with them some of the staples that I’ve seen work. It’s not so much that the mentality is different. There’s no such thing as a small thing. Coach (John) Wooden said that, and he’s a pretty smart coach. I let them know from the first day that we’re going to hold ourselves to a championship level of execution. That’s one thing that is not negotiable.”

»»» His impressions of the minicamp experience: “I’ve never been involved in a minicamp of this type before. In Colorado, we had player development programs and accelerated winter programs, but you wouldn’t have this many men from the 25- or 40-man rosters involved. Last year in Texas, we had a pitching camp and a hitting camp, which was a bit of a microcosm of what we’ve got going on here. So, this is exciting for me. It’s a big opportunity for me to familiarize myself with the player development staff and major league staff and also the players. It’s a late Christmas present for me.”

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Julio inks minor league deal

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BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates signed right-handed reliever Jorge Julio to a minor league contract that does not include an invite to spring training.

Julio, who will turn 32 in March, has pitched for eight teams over nine seasons in the majors. He owns 99 saves and a 4.43 career ERA and averages 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

His best season was 2002, when Julio went 5-6 with a 1.99 ERA and 25 saves with Baltimore. He finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.

He has not pitched in the majors since 2009, when put up a 7.79 ERA in 15 games with Milwaukee.

Last summer, Julio pitched for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League and racked up 57 strikeouts in 55 innings. He played this winter in Venezuela and had a 1.95 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 27 innings.

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Hart set to get back on the bump

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Kevin Hart is the exception to the “no-throw” approach this week at minicamp.

For most of the three dozen or so players at Pirate City, the focus will be on strength and conditioning. New guys like Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz have the extra chore of learning who’s who. “That’s the hardest part, because I’m terrible with names,” Overbay said, smiling.

Hart, however, will throw a brief bullpen session sometime this week. It will be his first time on the pitcher’s mound since May, when he had surgery to repair a torn labrum.

Later today, Hart will sit down with coaches and trainers to evaluate his rehab and plot his return to regular activity. “If everything goes perfect, no setbacks or anything in the next few weeks, I should be ready to go at the start of spring training,” Hart said.

Losing all of last season to the injury also caused Hart to lose his role as a starting pitcher. When he does return, it will be as a reliever.

»»» Evan Meek laughed as he dropped off two boxes of donuts in the coaches’ room this morning. “None for me,” said Meek, who is visibly trimmer than he was last year.

»»» Overbay, Steve Pearce and Josh Fields took grounders at first base on Field 3. Pearce is moving well and seems to have fully recovered after having his left knee scoped in August.

»»» Almost everyone on the list of expected attendees was in camp today. Garrett Jones (who will arrive Wednesday) and Andrew McCutchen (Thursday) will be late arrivals due to prior commitments.

»»» Today marked the first time new manager Clint Hurdle worked out with the players. Drills were held for about three hours on all four full fields under mostly sunny skies. “It was a good day,” Hurdle said. “It was efficient. We were able to get on the field, move them around a little bit, work on some technique and play a little defense. There was some on-field hitting. It’s good to get back on the field and hear the crack of the bat and the smack of the ball in the mitt.”

»»» I posted a lot of pictures from camp today via my Twitter account (@RobBiertempfel) and hope to get a few more up tomorrow.

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Scatch Fuentes off the list

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Scratch free-agent lefty Brian Fuentes off the list of relief pitcher possibilities for the Pirates.

Fuentes, 35, would have been a good fit for their bullpen. Because he has experience as a closer, he could have filled the role Octavio Dotel had last year — a stable arm at the back end of the bullpen, giving Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek time to develop.

The Pirates were interested in Fuentes and had conversations with his agent. However, Fuentes’ asking price — he wants a two- or three-year deal worth at least $5 million a year — is too steep, and he doesn’t seem inclined to budge.

The market for middle relievers, particularly left-handers, has blown up this offseason. There’s not much left and some of the leftovers are still asking for multi-year deals. Expect the Pirates to look to their internal options — such as Scott Olsen (who’s also a candidate for the fifth starter job), Dan Moskos, Aaron Thompson and Tony Watson — to fill lefty jobs in the pen. Moskos, Thompson and Watson are slated to attend mini-camp this week.

»»» I bumped into catcher Tony Sanchez this morning in the lobby at Pirate City as he checked in for mini-camp. “Are you (media) guys here to get in shape, too?” he said, grinning.

»»» John Green was the Pirates’ farm director from 2000-01 and worked in their front office as recently as 2008. Yesterday, his 9-year-old daughter, Christina-Taylor, was among six people killed by a gunman who targeted Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Although just a third-grader, Christina-Taylor often told her family she wanted to attend Penn State and perhaps someday become a politician. She was the only girl on her Little League team, the Pirates, in Canyon del Oro, Ariz.

Green, the son of former Phillies manager Dallas Green, now works as an amateur scouting supervisor for the Dodgers. Pirates GM Neal Huntington contacted John Green to offer condolences.

»»» Ever “butt-dial” anyone — you forget to lock your cell phone and accidentally call someone when you bump the phone while it’s in your pocket? A couple of days ago, I did it to former Pirates right-hander Ian Snell. He laughed and gave me a pass when I apologized for the faux pas.

Snell is a free agent after being cut loose by the Mariners and said he might be close to signing with the Cardinals. There’s practically no chance Snell would return to the Pirates, but he did stress that he enjoyed his time here. “I always liked Pittsburgh,” Snell said. “I look at that team now, with all those young guys, and you can see it’s getting better.”

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