Masumi Kuwata - Angel_Blue/Flickr.com
Last week, Neal Huntington (heretofore known to Pirate Revolution regulars as "Che") made what has to be considered a pretty bold move. He made his first two signings of the 2009 preseason in the form of Indian wunderkinds Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel.
The two young phenoms were part of a "Million Dollar Arm" contest in their home country of India, a contest open to 16- to 21-year-old males to see who could throw the hardest while also throwing strikes. Singh won the contest and Patel placed second, earning them both a trip to the U.S. to work with a nationally renowned pitching coach, and then a Major League contract with your very own Pirates.
The first and obvious positive from this situation is what it says about Huntington and his staff. The signing of two young and very raw pitchers is exactly the kind of very high-risk, high-reward opportunities that a low revenue team needs to capitalize on. It also creates the same kind of buzz, attention, intrigue and excitement that former general manager Dave Littlefield attempted to generate in previous seasons by bringing in players like Masumi Kuwata or Yoslan Herrera.
Kuwata out of Japan and Hererra out of Cuba were both rather half-assed additions. (Bear with me folks. You know as well as I that "Half-Assed" was practically DL's middle name, but I'm going somewhere with it.) They were both international players from very fertile international talent pools, markets from which the Pirates had never before acquired talent.
However, Kuwata and Herrera were both minimally risky options. Given Kuwata's age and Herrera's absence from pitching, anyone beyond a casual fan needed nothing more than their stat sheets to tell you that the odds of them becoming anything more than average, back-end roster filler weren't very good.
Singh and Patel are a completely different story. It is certainly true that given their age (Singh and Patel are 20 and 19, respectively) and rawness of ability it is absolutely impossible to make any kind of projections whatsoever. However, when I hear that a kid who had never picked up a baseball before last year and had zero formal training prior to this summer managed to bust out 90+ m.p.h. fastballs, it's hard not to be optimistic.
Let's see ... Patel--5'11", hard throwing righty ... sound like any current Pirate? Singh--6"2" lefty, high 80's, low 90's finesse pitcher ... sound like any other current Pirate?
There's a second, much more important ramification to this transaction. The Pittsburgh Pirates can now proudly say that they were not just the first Major League Baseball franchise, but the first professional sports franchise of any kind in the Unites States to sign Indian athletes.
This is a national event along the lines of Wang Zhi Zhi coming to the NBA from China. Back in 1999, when he traveled to the U.S. to begin his NBA odyssey, nobody knew whether Zhi would turn into something spectacular or something pedestrian, and while he did indeed turn out to be the latter, his presence helped pave the way for a superstar like Yao Ming.
The same could be said here. India is a large country, second only to China as the most populated on the globe. Baseball may not be a massive national craze at the present time, but an event like this certainly plants seeds of what can only be a good thing for a country that could form the second most populous city in the United States just from their population of 16-24 year old males.
That means that in general--but especially if Singh or Patel even makes the major league roster, let alone has any kind of success at the major league level--the Pirates have now helped to open a talent pipeline to a new market, and they will be standing at the front of the line if those floodgates ever open.
There's also the possibilities that are generated by the international media that will follow. Again, it probably won't be the groundswell of foreigners we saw when Kuwata came to the Pirates, but it is sure to generate international press for the franchise that can't be anything but good.
All in all, this is just another reason to believe in our new, fearless leader and take comfort in the knowledge that while you may not wholeheartedly agree with everything he does, the moves are at least blindingly logical and geared towards a brighter future for our baseball team.
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