The Pittsburgh Pirates today announced the signings of six minor league free agents, each of whom will receive an invite to Major League Spring Training. The offseason additions include right-handers Collin Balester, Deolis Guerra, Brad Lincoln and Blake Wood, left-hander Jeremy Bleich and infielder Gustavo Nunez.
RHP Collin Balester
A former fourth-round selection by Washington (Montreal) in 2004, Balester, 28, pitched just three full seasons in the minors before making his Major League debut with the Nationals in 2008. The former two-time, Baseball America Top 100 prospect recorded a combined 144 strikeouts in 185 innings between Washington (2008-11) and the Detroit Tigers (2012) from 2008-12, but after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June, 2013, has since been limited to just 18 minor league appearances while completing his recovery. Those outings include Balester’s official return to action – a two-game rehab stint with the Gulf Coast League Pirates in late June of last season – and are capped by scoreless showings in three of his final four games with Double-A Altoona during August.
[Baseball America Best Tools: Best Fastball, WSH system (2004-05)]
LHP Jeremy Bleich
Bleich, 27, is a former first-round selection and 44th overall pick by the New York Yankees in 2008. The southpaw climbed the draft boards to reach the first round thanks to a strong, three-year collegiate career at Stanford, highlighted by his 2.09 ERA in nine starts and 11 total games as a junior. Since his professional debut with Staten Island in the New York-Penn League on Sept. 4, 2008, Bleich has pitched across five levels of the Yankees’ system in 68 starts and 37 relief appearances, including tossing 31 innings with 24 strikeouts and 23 earned runs with the Scranton RailRiders last season.
[Baseball America Best Tools: N/A]
RHP Deolis Guerra
Guerra, 25, signed with Pittsburgh after pitching in the Minnesota Twins organization through the first nine years of his career. The Bolivar, Venezuela native has seen action in the International League in each of the previous three seasons with the Rochester Red Wings, most recently compiling a 4.33 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 52 innings last season. In addition, Guerra authored two scoreless outings against the Tribe in 2014, working a perfect inning in Rochester on Aug. 7 and two shutout frames at Victory Field on July 28, prior to yielding a two-run triple to Andrew Lambo in a final, four-score outing against the Indians on Aug. 9 in downtown Indianapolis.
[Baseball America Best Tools: Best Changeup, NYM system (2007-08), MIN system (2009-13)]
RHP Brad Lincoln
Lincoln, 29, is a four-year Tribe veteran who returns to the Pirates organization following a 2013 stint with Toronto and 2014 stay with the Phillies. Despite his recent setbacks in the big leagues, Lincoln was dominant in his final tour in Pittsburgh in 2012, allowing just 18 earned runs in 59.1 innings for a 2.73 ERA. The righty also served as a consistent arm in the Indians rotation throughout his Bucs tenure with 61 innings in 2009, 94 in 2010 and an impressive 111 2/3 frames in 2011. He departed from the Tribe with a 2.25 ERA over his final two starts – both against Toledo – on April 8 (1 ER/5.0 IP) and April 13 (2 ER/7.0 IP) in 2011.
[Baseball America Best Tools: Best Fastball, PIT system (2007); Best Curveball, PIT system (2007-10); Best Breaking Pitch, Eastern League (2009)]
INF Gustavo Nunez
Nunez, 26, delivered a standout campaign in 2014 with Double-A Mississippi in Atlanta’s organization, hitting .301 (92-for-306) with 15 extra-base knocks, 46 runs and 31 RBI in 97 games. He was originally signed by Detroit as an international free agent out of San Pedro de Macoris, DO in 2007, and following five seasons in the Tigers system, hit .273 at three levels of Pittsburgh’s chain (GCL, Hi-A, Double-A) during the 2012 season. He reached the International League in 2013 to go 36-for-186 in 61 games during his Triple-A debut with Toledo.
[Baseball America Best Tools: Best Defensive INF, DET system (2010); Fastest Baserunner, DET system (2011); Best Infield Arm, Midwest League (2009); Best Defensive SS, Florida State League (2010)]
RHP Blake Wood
Wood, 29, joins the Pirates boasting 127 innings of Major League experience between the bullpens of the Kansas City Royals (2010-11) and Cleveland Indians (2013-14). Originally selected out of former Tribe starter Brandon Cumpton’s alma mater, Georgia Tech, by the Royals in 2006, Wood became a mainstay in KC’s bullpen in 2011 before undergoing elbow surgery and remaining sidelined through 2012. Following his stint in the International League with Columbus from 2013-14, Wood will now enter the 2015 season with a solid 3.06 ERA in 64 2/3 innings at the Triple-A level.
[Baseball America Best Tools: Best Changeup, KC system (2009)]