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Notes: Bucs sign four to Minors deals

Notes: Bucs sign four players

PITTSBURGH -- In an effort to continue infusing depth into the organization, the Pirates have signed four players to Minor League contracts for 2008, all four with a guaranteed invite to Spring Training.

Returning to the Pittsburgh organization is Jorge Velandia, a middle infielder who played for the Pirates' Triple-A Indianapolis affiliate back in 2005. After hitting .277 with 22 doubles and 39 RBIs in 105 games for the Indians, Velandia signed with the White Sox for the 2006 season and then with Tampa Bay in 2007.

The 32-year-old Velandia spent the majority of last season playing in Triple-A, where the infielder hit .249 with 33 extra-base hits, while committing just nine fielding errors in 120 games. Velandia also played in 14 games as a September callup for Tampa Bay and contributed with 16 hits and 11 RBIs in 50 at-bats.

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The 2008 season will mark the Venezuelan native's 17th season in professional ball, which includes seven different stops in the Majors. He is also currently playing winter ball in Venezuela, where he has posted a .269 average and 16 RBIs in 34 games so far.

Among the new additions include pitcher Mike Thompson, a right-handed starter who began last season with the Padres before spending the majority of the year playing for the team's Triple-A club. He appeared in seven big league games in 2007, going a combined 0-1 with a 6.89 ERA.

A fifth-round Draft pick by San Diego back in 1999, the 27-year-old Thompson pitched in 23 games (22 starts) for the Padres' Triple-A club last year, going 4-11 with a 6.29 ERA. In 132 2/3 innings, the right-hander struck out 71 and walked 40. He first broke into the Majors a year earlier, when in 2006 he posted a 4-5 record and a 4.99 ERA in 19 appearances (16 starts).

After losing catchers Humberto Cota and Carlos Maldonado this offseason, the Pirates needed to bring some additional catchers into their Minor League system, and they did so by signing both Miguel Perez and Michel Hernandez.

Adding Perez gives the Pirates a young backstop who combined to hit .322 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 42 games last season split among three different Minor League levels. The 24-year-old Perez was originally signed by the Reds as a non-drafted free agent in 2000 and has appeared in just two big league games in his career.

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For Hernandez, Pittsburgh will be the sixth organization for which he has played, with the 29-year-old native Cuban having spent the most recent season in Tampa Bay's farm system. In 51 games behind the plate at Triple-A Durham last year, Hernandez hit .276 with 19 RBIs.

These four players are the first to have signed Minor League contracts with the Pirates so far this offseason. Pittsburgh has, however, agreed to terms with other Minor League free agents but is waiting to finalize contracts with those players before making additional announcements.

Scouting staff news: In a separate team announcement on Friday, scouting director Greg Smith announced a handful of personnel promotions and additions to the Pirates scouting department for next season.

Both Everett Russell and Rodney Henderson have been promoted from area scouts to regional scouts for the Midwest and Southeast, respectively. Additionally Rob Guzik has been hired as the scouting supervisor for the Northeast region.

Filling out the area scouting staff will be Matt Bimeal, who has been promoted from part-time to full-time, and Josh Shaffer.

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

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