New Pirate Niese gets acclimated early

Acquired in Walker trade, lefty arrives at Pirate City for voluntary mini-camp

New Pirate Niese gets acclimated early

BRADENTON, Fla. -- While the Pirates' front-office and coaching staff flock to Pirate City this time each year, the workouts they supervise are truly voluntary. Players, especially veterans, aren't required or even necessarily expected to show up. But there are benefits to doing so, as Jon Niese discovered Tuesday.

Niese has spent the offseason working out across the state in Port St. Lucie, Fla., the Spring Training home of the Mets -- the only organization the left-hander had played for before being traded for Neil Walker on Dec. 9. But the veteran pitcher checked in to the Bucs' mini-camp for a day, his first opportunity to meet some of his new coaches, trainers and teammates.

"I felt like it's pretty important to show my face here, meet the guys and kind of get my feet wet," Niese said. "It's good to be here, talk to them face to face and get to know them a little bit better."

Shortly after dropping his old Mets equipment bag by his new locker around 10 a.m. ET, Niese slowly wandered around the Pirate City clubhouse. Asked if he was looking for a team trainer, Niese responded, "I'm just kind of looking around, to be honest with you."

While it may not seem like much, general manager Neal Huntington pointed to a moment like that as part of the acclimation process eased by an event like the club's annual mini-camp. When a new player, like Niese or John Jaso, reports for Spring Training, it won't be his first time seeing Pirate City or meeting his new coaches and teammates.

"It's tremendous to have Jon Niese bounce over and begin to get some familiarity with the staff and the team," Huntington said. "I think these guys genuinely enjoy it."

Niese was also genuinely excited about his role with the Pirates and pleased to have a spot in their rotation after getting bumped to the Mets' bullpen. The lefty has repeatedly praised Pittsburgh's defense, and he did so again Tuesday, expressing his anticipation to pitch in front of his new teammates.

Niese works out of the 11th

"In my eyes, we have the best outfield in the league. They just run and get everything. The infield is full of great athletes," Niese said. "They make the plays that need to be made, and they make the plays that most other teams can't make. They save runs, and as a pitcher, that's pretty important to me."

Mini-camp notes

• Right-hander Daniel Bard, who arrived at Pirate City on Monday with news that he'd signed a Minor League contract, is expected to report to Minor League Spring Training. However, Huntington said, Bard "may get some opportunities" in big league camp.

"Our goal is to have him help us at some point later this year," Huntington said. "Our focus isn't necessarily 'as soon as possible.' It's when we feel we've put the things in place to have him help us."

• Right-hander Juan Nicasio, who signed a one-year deal last month, will be stretched out as a starting pitcher this spring, Huntington said. Nicasio pitched well out of the Dodgers' bullpen last season, and he'll likely wind up in Pittsburgh's 'pen this year, but having him prepare like a starter gives the Bucs another option for their rotation.

• The Pirates are still optimistic that infielder Jung Ho Kang (left leg) will return in April or early May. First, they must see how well Kang's conditioning has held up as they ease him into more intense workouts and baseball activities.

"He's put himself in position to be ready as quickly as possible, but we can't cheat the process," Huntington said.

• Setup man Tony Watson also reported to mini-camp on Tuesday.

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.