By John Perrotto
The Pirates stuck with Donnie Veal throughout the 2009 season, even though they knew he was not ready to pitch in the major leagues. That move might wind up paying off in the long haul if continues to pitch like he is in the Arizona Fall League.
“He’s been one of the most impressive pitchers out here,” said a scout from a major-league organization who covers the AFL on a daily basis.
The Pirates selected the left-hander from the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft last December despite the face he led the Southern League in walks and wild pitches for Class AA Tennessee in 2008. They knew a lefty who threw 95 mph with a hammer curveball was too good to pass up for the $50,000 draft price.
The only catch was they had to keep him on the major-league roster all season or offer him back to the Cubs for $25,000.
The Pirates hid Veal as best they could during this past season as he made just 19 relief appearances covering 16 1/3 innings in the major leagues, walking 20 batters.
The Pirates did find enough injuries with Veal to send on him on two minor-league rehabilitation assignments, which enabled him to pitch a combined 27 1/3 innings for Class AAA Indianapolis and Class AA Altoona.
Until struggling in a start Thursday when he gave up three runs, five hits and three walks in 2 1/3 innings for Scottsdale, Veal had been nothing short of sensational in the AFL. Even with the rough outing, he has allowed five runs, four earned, in 19 innings for 1.89 ERA along with 15 hits, five walks and 18 strikeouts.
“You can tell his confidence is high now,” the scout said. “I’ve never seen him command his pitches like this. He’s always had the great arm but now he is starting to gain the command. If he keeps this up, the Pirates really have something.”
Veal isn’t the only Pirates prospect drawing praise in the AFL.
Outfielder Jose Tabata, who finished this past season as a 21-year-old playing at Indianapolis, is hitting .361 in 97 at bats with four doubles, two triples, one home run, eight walks and 11 strikeouts.
“He’s been a line-drive machine,” the scout said. “He hits the ball hard every time up and you can almost see his eyes light up when he hits with men on base. He wants to hit in those big situation. I used to think this kid was overrated because the Yankees gave him so much money (as an amateur free agent from Venezuela). Not anymore, I don’t. He’s good.”
Infielder Chase d’Arnaud, who finished the 2009 season at high Class A Lynchburg, has gotten hot after a slow start and is hitting 254 with five doubles and one triple in 59 at bats. He is also opening eyes.
“He was a little overmatched at first because he was playing against a lot of guys with more experience but he’s starting to hold his own,” the scout said. “He’s a good athlete and does a lot of things well.”
Left-hander Tony Watson, who missed most of the season because of arm problems, is pitching well as he has allowed two run in 10 innings for 1.80 ERA while allowing six hits and three walks and striking out eight.
“I don’t know if his stuff is good enough to pitch in the major leagues but he knows how to get guys out,” the scout said.
Infielder Brian Friday is hitting .250 with one double and one triple in 44 at bats and left-hander Danny Moskos, the Pirates’ ill-fated first-round draft pick in 2007, has a 5.84 in 12 1/3 innings with eight walks and 11 strikeouts.
“Friday, for me, is maybe a utility guy in the big leagues,” the scout. “I just don’t see Moskos making it. There is a lot of cleanup work needed with that delivery and his stuff just isn’t very good.”