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Neal Huntington Discusses NRIs, Jung Ho Kang, Gerrit Cole, Austin Meadows, and More

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BRADENTON, Fla. – Neal Huntington spoke with the media on Monday, for the first day of Pirates mini-camp, discussing a variety of topics. I’ve saved a lot of the quotes for expanded individual articles, including one tonight for First Pitch on the players returning from Tommy John surgery, and one for tomorrow on Josh Bell. Here were the notes on all of the other topics covered.

**The non-roster invitee list was released on Monday, with a lot of internal options. Huntington discussed those moves, noting the change in their approach from previous years when they didn’t have as many internal NRIs:

“It’s a byproduct of a couple of things,” Huntington said. “One, a fairly stable major league roster, and two, a productive scouting system and development system. We’ve got a lot of guys that we feel are on the horizon to help our major league team that have come from within. We haven’t had to be as aggressive. We’ve signed guys, and we’ve targeted guys, and we’ve gone after guys. But it’s been more quality than quantity in terms of the external additions to come in and compete to make our club, or to provide depth for us. Both are good signs for the organization.”

Last year, the Pirates signed Matt Joyce and David Freese late in the offseason, and both made their bench. The current bench looks pretty crowded with Freese returning, and joining John Jaso, Chris Stewart, and Adam Frazier. There might not be as many opportunities, but the Pirates will still look for additional guys like Joyce.

“It was more just Matt Joyce was a good addition for us on a minor league contract, with a chance to come in and compete and make our club,” Huntington said of the approach last year. “We’ll keep our options open there, and still have ongoing dialogue with guys, maybe looking for a different, or in their minds, a better opportunity. … We have more internal options than we’ve had in the past, but that doesn’t mean we ever stop looking to find a way to make this club better and deepen the roster.”

**The mention of David Freese and the bench depth will bring up questions about Jung Ho Kang. Huntington didn’t have much to say on Kang’s legal issues in Korea, related to drunk driving. It sounds like MLB is handling most of this at the moment.

“We are working through as if he will be here, and still working through the process with Major League Baseball,” Huntington said. “They’re still the ones that are driving the process at this point in time. Once that takes place, we’ll move forward from there.”

**In other injury notes, Huntington didn’t have a big update on Gerrit Cole, who is back throwing again and having a normal offseason. He did repeat something that he has said in the past:

“The best news we can give is that it’s a normal offseason. We’re looking forward to him coming into Spring Training with a normal baseball offseason under his belt, and ready to go out and be Gerrit Cole.”

Huntington also discussed how much Cole means to the team next year.

“It certainly is a huge advantage if he’s healthy and he’s Gerrit Cole. As with Andrew [McCutchen], there’s no coincidence we were good when Andrew was good. It’s no coincidence we were good when Gerrit was good. Getting those guys back to their levels of what we’ve become accustomed to will certainly be a great foundation for the club.”

**Two of the non-roster invitees were top hitting prospects Austin Meadows and Kevin Newman. The Pirates typically have top prospects come to MLB Spring Training when they are a year or less away from the big leagues, just to get them used to the big league clubhouse and process. That is the case with Meadows and Newman.

“It’s an opportunity for them to just be around a big league environment. To play in some big league Spring Training games formally. They’ve both been over and they’ve been late inning replacements in the past, but they get a chance to be in camp from the outset. You’re honest with them, their chances of making the club are extremely small. You don’t close doors completely, but the reality is they’re getting exposure for their first full major league Spring Training. At the same time, we need to make sure they get work, to get ready for their minor league seasons, so when they’re called upon, they’re ready to go out of the gate at the major league level.”

**I wrote about Meadows on Monday, sharing his thoughts on the Andrew McCutchen trade rumors, his injuries, and what he has to work on next year. Huntington expanded on the latter part, saying it was more than just staying healthy.

“Just a continued development. Baseball has different levels for different reasons. Guys learn different lessons at those different levels. Austin is going to face some pitchers that might not have the pure stuff that he faced in Double-A. They may have more pitchability than they’ve had in the past, and he got a taste of it last year. He’s going to have to make some adjustments on the fly. He’s going to have to learn how to close some holes that pitchers are exploiting in an at-bat, in a game, pitch-by-pitch perhaps. The ability to go out there and stay healthy. You play so hard, that that’s going to be a challenge for him. We don’t want to take that aggressiveness and that style of play away from him. At the same time, we’re looking for him to continue to grow and develop and get additional at-bats, learn how to close holes, and learn how to do some things on the field that he’s going to need to do at the major league level.”

**I reported a few weeks ago that Scott Mitchell has been moved to a new position as the Senior Pitching Coordinator, while Justin Meccage has been promoted to Pitching Coordinator. Huntington explained the reason behind those moves and the new position created for Mitchell:

“As we’ve worked through how to best impact our pitchers, we’ve recognized that the old school pitching coordinator role is probably more than one person now in this day in age. There’s different components, elements, and strengths that [each guy brings and complements to each other]. [It was] the opportunity to have two guys that we like a lot make a significant impact to really benefit all of our pitchers and all of our coaches in the system.”

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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