By Jason Shetler
When Neal Huntington took over as Pirates general manager prior to 2008, his objective was to replenish the minor league system with talent, something that was completely overlooked under Dave Littlefield’s watch. Huntington and his staff not only wanted to put emphasis on the draft and Latin America, but they looked at several other countries for talent as well. During that year, two men from India competed in a reality show known as “The Million Dollar Arm”. Rinku Singh was the winner of the competition while Dinesh Patel finished as the runner-up. Both men headed over to the States to be trained by USC (University of Southern California) pitching coach and former big league pitcher Tom House. In November of 2008, the Pirates were one of 20 teams that scouted Singh and Patel. Singh had the better velocity of the pair, as his average fastball velocity was 92 mph. On November 24, 2008, the Pirates signed both Singh and Patel for a total of $8,000, becoming the first ever Indian born players to sign professional contracts. As expected, the Pirates were heavily criticized by the media for bringing in two players who had no prior baseball experience of any kind. They were expected to make their debuts in the Gulf Coast League. On July 4th, 2009, Rinku Singh made history by becoming the first Indian born pitcher to pitch a professional game in the United States. Singh is currently still in the Pirates system. As far as Dinesh Patel, he was unfortunately released by the Pirates in December of 2010.
So what are the chances Rinku Singh can actually make it to the Major Leagues? – He’s pitched four seasons in the system, and has performed very well under the circumstances. In 84 appearances, Singh is posting a 2.99 ERA along with a 1.26 WHIP and a .260 batting average against. He missed all of last season due to shoulder problems, and is expected to miss this year as well. Once Singh returns next season, he will likely pitch for the Bradenton Marauders. Despite the good numbers so far, Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects points out that Singh is an extreme flyball pitcher and that he doesn’t have outstanding stuff, which will certainly be a challenge for him once he starts facing more advanced hitters at the AA and AAA levels, assuming he gets that far. If Singh were to make it to the big leagues, it would take him a few more years based on the injury and the level he is at right now. During that time, the Pirates are going to draft more high upside pitchers, meaning that Singh could get lost in the shuffle. I personally think it’s a real long shot for Singh to make it to Pittsburgh, but then again stranger things have happened. Even if he doesn’t reach the big leagues, it’s still an incredible story regardless.