Pirates hire Eckstein, announce invitees

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Pirates hired David Eckstein as a special assistant in baseball operations. The announcement was made by Pirates general manager Neal Huntington on Saturday.

“David Eckstein brings intelligence, intensity and a unique drive and energy to the Pirates organization,” Huntington said. “David’s strengths will be an asset for our Major League team and player development system as a teacher and mentor. We are elated to add a quality person with an extensive playing background to our organization.”

Eckstein has served as a guest infield instructor during spring training for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim from 2012-15 and again from 2017-18. Eckstein also worked with Tony La Russa and the Arizona Diamondbacks Baseball Operations staff during spring training in 2016.

Eckstein also worked in various capacities for USA Baseball’s 18U National team from 2012-16. In 2015, he worked as a first base coach, hitting instructor and infield instructor for the 18U National team that captured the Baseball World Cup.

Eckstein, who is the younger brother of Pirates hitting coach Rick Eckstein, played in the big leagues for 10 seasons from 2001-10 with Anaheim (2001-04), St. Louis (2005-07), Toronto (2008), Arizona (2008) and San Diego (2009-10). The two-time All-Star (2005 and 2006) and two-time World Series champion (2002 with Anaheim and 2006 with St. Louis) was also named the MVP of the 2006 World Series where he hit .364 as St. Louis beat Detroit in five games.

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The Pirates also announced the following players will attend big league camp as non-roster invitees in February.

Will Craig (INF): Spent the entire 2018 season with Altoona, where he was named the team’s MVP…Was named to the Eastern League’s mid- and post-season All-Star teams…Led the Eastern League in RBI (102) while finishing tied for second games (132) and third in extra base hits (53)…Became just the second player in Altoona history to reach triple digits in RBI, joining Adam Hyzdu (106 in 2000)…Was named to the Arizona Fall League’s All-AFL team after hitting .304 with three doubles, six homers and 18 RBI in 21 games for the Surprise Saguaros; finished tied for the league lead in home runs, tied for third in total bases (45) and third in slugging percentage (.570)…Was Pittsburgh’s first round selection (22nd overall) in the 2016 Draft.

Ke’Bryan Hayes (INF): Was Pittsburgh’s Minor League Player-of-the-Year in 2018…Won his second straight Gold Glove at third base; the only repeat Gold Glove winner in all of minor league baseball…Represented the Pirates at the All-Star Futures Game in 2018; hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning…Spent all of 2018 with Altoona, where he was named to the Eastern League’s mid- and post-season All-Star teams…Led all minor league third basemen with a .978 fielding percentage in 2018; the highest in the Eastern League by any third baseman with at least 75 games played in the last 60 years…Enters 2019 rated as Pittsburgh’s second-best prospect and the “Best Defensive Infielder” according to Baseball America…Was Pittsburgh’s supplemental first-round selection (32nd overall) in the 2015 Draft.

Bryan Reynolds (OF): Spent the entire 2018 season with Altoona…Hit .320 (94-for-294) over his last 78 games from 6/8 to 9/3 while leading the Pirates system with 54 runs scored during that period…Hit .325 (66-for-203) following the Eastern League All-Star break … Ranked fifth in the Eastern League and fourth among all Pirates minor leaguers with a .302 average…Also finished fourth in the Eastern League with a .381 on-base percentage…Enters 2019 rated by Baseball America as Pittsburgh’s ninth-best prospect and with the “Best Outfield Arm” in the Pirates minor league system.

Tyler Eppler (RHP): Finished tied for first among Pirates minor leaguers with 13 wins in 2018; also finished fifth among Pirates farmhands in 2018 with 118 strikeouts…Ranked second in the International League in wins (13) and 10th in ERA (3.59) last season…Was Pittsburgh’s sixth round selection in the 2014 Draft.

Elvis Escobar (LHP): Began 2018 as an outfielder before being converted to a full-time pitcher…Went a combined 4-2 with a 3.56 ERA (30.1 IP/12 ER) and 36 strikeouts in 18 relief appearances between the West Virginia Power and Altoona last season…Has posted a 2.53 ERA (10.2 IP/3 ER) in 18 appearances while pitching for Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League.

Geoff Hartlieb (RHP): Spent the entire 2018 season with Altoona, where he ranked sixth in the Eastern League in appearances (47) and tied for eighth in saves (10)…Led all Pirates minor leaguers in appearances while also finishing third in saves last season…Was Pittsburgh’s 29th round selection in the 2016 Draft.

Alex McRae (RHP): Spent a majority of the 2018 season with Triple-A Indianapolis…Has gone 35-40 with one save and a 4.47 ERA (626.0 IP/311 ER) in 124 appearances (113 starts) during his minor league career…Made Major League debut with the Pirates on 8/1/18 vs. Chicago (NL)…Was Pittsburgh’s 10th round selection in the 2014 Draft.

Eduardo Vera (RHP): Went 11-5 with a 3.37 ERA (155.0 IP/58 ER) and 98 strikeouts between Bradenton and Altoona in 2018…Ranked fifth among all Pirates minor leaguers in ERA, tied for fifth in wins and second in innings pitched last season…Was signed by the Pirates as a non-drafted free agent on 3/5/12.

Brandon Waddell (LHP): Went a combined 7-9 with a 3.59 ERA (135.1 IP/54 ER) in 28 appearances (23 starts) between Altoona and Indianapolis in 2018…Enters the 2019 season rated by Baseball America as having the “Best Changeup” in the Pirates minor league system…Was Pittsburgh’s fifth round selection in the 2015 Draft.

Blake Weiman (LHP): Went a combined 4-1 with a 2.42 ERA (67 IP/18 ER) and 77 strikeouts in 39 appearances between the West Virginia Power, Bradenton and Altoona last season…Went 0-1 with one save and a 3.95 ERA (13.2 IP/6 ER) in eight relief appearances for the Surprise Saguaros during the Arizona Fall League…Was Pittsburgh’s eighth round selection in the 2017 Draft.

Jason Delay (C): Spent the entire 2018 season with Bradenton…Threw out 24 of the 64 runners (38 percent) attempting to steal against him…Was Pittsburgh’s fourth round selection in the 2017 Draft.

Christian Kelley (C): Spent the entire 2018 season with Altoona, where he was rated by Baseball America as the “Best Defensive Catcher” in the Pirates system coming into the season…Threw out 28 runners attempting to steal against him, which ranked second among Eastern League backstops…Also threw out 34 percent of the runners attempting to steal against him, which ranked fourth in the Eastern League.

Arden Pabst (C): Hit a combined .264 with 14 doubles, two triples, 10 home runs and 36 RBI in 66 games last season between Bradenton, Altoona and Indianapolis…Threw out 46 percent (27-for-59) of the runners attempting to steal against him between the three levels…Was Pittsburgh’s 12th round selection in the 2016 Draft.

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