Back on April 2, 2009 the Pirates started their foray into a new territory, signing an amateur player from Australia named Mitchell Fienemann. Before they signed Fienemann, they signed Tony Harris as a scout, and his specialty is Australia. He has coached there since 1992, including this past off-season, managing the Australian Baseball League (ABL) team the Adelaide Bite, which featured Pirates farmhands Wilson Lee, Jackson Lodge and Quincy Latimore.
Harris has now been responsible for five players from Australia signing since he joined the organization. So just how has this new venture into the outback looked so far early on?
Mitchell Fienemann - Now 21 years old, the 6′ 4″ RHP has been used as the closer for State College this year, his 3rd season in the organization. He was fairly impressive his first year in the GCL posting a 3.79 ERA and walking just 3 batters in 40.1 IP.
His control seems to be his strong point but he hasn’t developed a fastball like they hoped as he still throws in the mid-80′s except now he throws sidearm. He could be the next Noah Krol who is making a slow crawl towards the majors as a soft tossing sidearm closer. So for now, he looks like he’s being used as an organizational pitcher who may have been used to open the door for more signings.
Dylan Child - The 20 year old Child signed on July 10, 2009 for a $20 K bonus. He was originally a shortstop but moved to catcher in January 2009, at the suggestion of Harris, for a better chance to make it in pro ball. The Pirates liked him due to his strong arm, athletic frame and great work ethic and desire. He was described as a raw hitter, but he makes good, although not solid, contact. That has basically been as advertised with him because he has struck out just 14 times in his 80 pro at-bats, but is a .188 hitter with just one extra base hit to his credit, a double. Last year the Pirates used him at first base, third base and catcher but this year he has only caught.
Jarryd Sullivan - The Pirates signed Sullivan on July 21, 2009 for $2,500. The 6′ 0″ twenty-one year old RHP was described as a hard worker and tough competitor, but he had fringe stuff. He threw 88-89 but his fastball was straight. He did have decent secondary pitches, throwing a slurve and a change with good control. Sullivan showed great control in the pros last year walking just 3 batters in 35 innings in the GCL. He got a brief look in the NYPL with State College but did not fare well in 3 appearances.
Jarryd threw 7.2 scoreless innings this off-season in the ABL and was opening some eyes in spring training this year but he strained his elbow right before the season started and has not pitched yet this year. Australian Baseball Digest ranked him the 9th best prospect in March.
Wilson Lee - Lee signed in late April last year. He is a 19 year old 6′ 1″ LHP who is currently starting in the GCL. After signing, Lee went to Adelaide to play for Harris in the ABL. He was used sparingly, getting in just 3.2 innings over 4 relief appearances. His performance so far in the GCL has been a pleasant surprise including his last performance today (7/16) when he went 5 innings giving up just one run and getting the win. He has thrown 19 innings, the 3rd highest on the team and is 2nd only to Orlando Castro in strikeouts with 16.
Tony Harris was very high on Lee when he signed him, saying he had potential to be anything he wants in pro ball as long as he puts his mind to it. He also made note of his incredible work ethic and desire which seems to be a key component for Harris when looking for young players.
Jackson Lodge - Lodge became the 4th pitcher signed out of Australia by the Pirates on November 29, 2010. He is just 17 still but has pitched well in his brief time in the GCL this year giving up 3 runs in 10 innings with no walks allowed. He pitched 8 games for Harris in the ABL posting a 6.75 ERA, but he had 10 strikeouts in 10.2 innings and was facing mainly much older competition as the youngest player on the team. He is a lanky 6′ 1″ LHP who still has plenty of time and room to grow. He posted a 2.03 ERA in 40 innings in the Australian Baseball Academy just prior to joining the Pirates organization.
While there aren’t any top prospects in the system yet it seems like the players they sign are getting better as we go along. It was a strong move by the Pirates signing Harris on as a scout due to his strong ties to Australia where he is well respected. I would expect the signing to continue to get better and the Pirates to remain active as long as players like Lee, Lodge and Sullivan (before he got hurt) continue to pitch well and athletic types like Child will always have a place for teams looking for a raw, athletic, hard-working player willing to sign that cheap in order to fulfill their major league dreams.