Pirates ink veteran Richard to Minor League deal

Coming back from '13 shoulder surgery, lefty among Spring Training invitees

Pirates ink veteran Richard to Minor League deal

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As do all teams, the Pirates will typically enter Spring Training hoping to find a needle in the haystack -- better known as non-roster invitees to camp. The Bucs' haystack got a little bit bigger Wednesday with the signing of left-hander Clayton Richard, one of several such additions with prior Major League experience.

Richard is a particularly intriguing subject: He was an anchor in the Padres' rotation as recently as 2012 -- when he led the team with 14 wins -- then was derailed in mid-2013 by shoulder surgery.

Richard, now 31, resumed pitching last summer in the D-backs' organization, but that comeback consisted of only four starts. He becomes a legitimate candidate to force his way onto the staff -- as does right-hander Brad Lincoln, who returned on a Minor League contract to the team with which he already has some good history.

Richard and Lincoln top a haystack which is sure to grow in the coming weeks but already also includes:

• RHP Collin Balester, 28, made 62 appearances (22 starts) for the 2008-11 Nationals and was in the Bucs' system this year (18 relief appearances at three different levels).

• LHP Jeremy Bleich, 27, was a first-round pick by the Yankees in 2008 and has not yet reached the Majors; he was 5-10 this season in 26 games (20 starts) between the Yanks' Double-A and Triple-A teams.

• RHP Deolis Guerra, 25, is a Minor League lifer (230 games in nine seasons, the last seven in the Twins' organization) who battled control issues until something clicked for him the last four years (223 strikeouts vs. 69 walks in 221 innings).

• OF Gorkys Hernandez, 27, is another returning Pirates prospect who was swapped at the 2012 Trade Deadline for Gaby Sanchez, and coincidentally was signed the same day Sanchez was designated for assignment; Hernandez played out '14 in the Mexican League, batting .378 in 24 games.

• INF Gustavo Nunez, 26, is a middle infielder/outfielder who could be ideal as the next Josh Harrison and spent 2014 batting .301 for the Braves' Double-A affiliate.

• INF Deibinson Romero, 28, is a corner infielder who had been in the Twins' chain for nine years, the last two at the Triple-A level (.265-18-95 in 209 games).

• C Sebastian Valle, 24, had spent eight years in the organization of the Phillies, who signed him as a teenager, and has struggled offensively as he moved up the chain (.220 in limited Triple-A play).

• RHP Blake Wood, 29, was Kansas City's third-round pick in the 2006 Draft and made a solid debut with the Royals in 2011 (5-3 with a 3.75 ERA in 55 outings) before being waylaid by Tommy John surgery in April 2012; on the Minor League comeback trail, he has fanned 83 in 69 innings the last two seasons.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.