Huntington fills out front-office staff

Huntington fills out front-office staff

PITTSBURGH -- From a room down in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington let out a sigh of relief during a conference call in which he announced the organization's most recent hires.

Since taking the GM post on Sept. 25, Huntington has been engrossed in search processes, player evaluations and personnel decisions. With so many organizational vacancies, every decision fell on Huntington, and every phone call came his way.

But on Wednesday, Huntington filled out his baseball operations team by naming the organization's farm director, scouting director and director of baseball operations. As a result, the Pirates now finally have the main pieces in place to move forward as a cohesive unit.

"I can get some things off my plate," Huntington said. "Now I can go back to wearing one hat."

Huntington expanded on that, saying that the relief is a byproduct of the confidence that he has in the additions of these staff members. When Huntington introduced Greg Smith as the Pirates' new scouting director, Kyle Stark as the team's next director of player development and Bryan Minniti as the director of baseball operations, he ended a front-office search process that had been ongoing for more than a month now.

With the offseason in full swing and Minor League player decisions looming, it was imperative that Huntington fill these vacancies sooner rather than later, which is why he chose to make the announcement while in Orlando, where he is attending the annual GM meetings this week.

Replacing Ed Creech as the Pirates' director of scouting will be Smith, who has spent the last 11 seasons working in Detroit's scouting department.

"I wanted to make sure that we got the best person available for the job, and [I] was hopeful that he would have had prior experience as a director of scouting," Huntington said. "In Greg we got both. We are aligned philosophically."

Smith, 41, has a 16-year scouting background, which includes eight seasons as the Tigers' director of scouting. For three of those years, Smith simultaneously held the role as the team's farm director. During the past three seasons, Smith served as special assignment scout for the Detroit club.

Serving as the director of scouting for Detroit from 1997-2004, Smith oversaw eight different First-Year Player Drafts, which have so far produced 40 Major Leaguers. Those players include Brandon Inge, Curtis Granderson, Joel Zumaya and Justin Verlander.

Smith said he knew both Huntington and Stark from having crossed paths while all were working for teams in the American League Central for years, but that his level of familiarity with the Pirates farm system currently is minimal.

As a result, Smith said his first order of business was reaching out to the current scouting team, as well as getting to know those in the organization's Minor League system.

As the new scouting director, Smith moves into a position that has been highly criticized by fans in recent years due to Draft selections, injuries to the organization's most promising pitchers and the seemingly slow track to the Majors that some players have been put on.

There have also been questions regarding how much Creech was bound financially in being able to draft the best players and not just the most affordable. When Smith was asked if he was assured the financial ability to draft the player he and his staff target with the overall No. 2 pick next season, he didn't hesitate.

"Absolutely," Smith said. "After meeting with [Pirates president] Frank [Coonelly] ... I think there is no doubt which direction which way our club needs to go."

After coming from Cleveland himself, Huntington lured Stark away from the Indians, naming the 29-year-old Pittsburgh's new director of player development. Stark replaces Brian Graham as the team's farm director after having served as an assistant farm director in Cleveland the last two seasons.

"He struck me as an incredibly talented guy from the first day I met him," Huntington said of Stark. "He coordinated the advanced scouting department and has served as an advanced scout. Kyle was really the voice of the advanced scouting group [in Cleveland]."

Stark spent a total of four years in the Indians' baseball operations department, during which he assisted in various scouting capacities.

"He impacted the organization in so many ways," Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro said. "I think his strengths lie in his work ethic, his passion for the game and his knowledge of the game. I think evaluation-wise, he has a very unique perspective. He's definitely had the opportunity to have his hand in many different areas."

Prior to arriving in Cleveland, Stark served as the pitching coach for the St. Bonaventure baseball team from 2003-04. Though only 29 years old, those who have worked with Stark in Cleveland are confident that he has had enough experience to excel in this role.

"He never struck me as a young guy," Shapiro added. "He's definitely a guy who has worked hard to be where he is and who is extremely talented."

Huntington stayed within the Pirates organization when naming Bryan Minniti the organizations' new director of baseball operations. Minniti, 27, has been a member of the Pirates' baseball operations department for seven seasons and has most recently been in charge of handling the Major League rules and regulations as well as waivers and transactions for the Pirates.

"He is due an opportunity to expand his role," Huntington said of Minniti, who will be tasked with running the business side of operations. "That will allow me to stay focused on the part that I love the most and that's the baseball side."

Minniti will continue to work in those capacities as well as help with the negotiation process of salary arbitration cases, as well as in other player contract negotiations.

Initially expecting to hire an assistant GM as well, Huntington said on Wednesday that doing so is no longer a priority. By divvying up his work among his new front office staff, Huntington said that he will likely go through next season without officially naming someone as an assistant GM.

"At this point, I am very confident at where we are," Huntington said. "I was looking for someone to free my table. We don't necessarily have to fill this position now."

Huntington left the door open when asked if there could be additional organizational hires this week, and adding that he and manager John Russell have already begun the process of seeking permission to interview candidates for coaching jobs.

Those coaching staff announcements will most likely come sometime next week.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.