Pirates sign 18-year-old pitcher from China

Hai-Cheng Gong is a graduate of MLB's development centers in China

Pirates sign 18-year-old pitcher from China

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates on Tuesday signed right-hander Hai-Cheng Gong, an 18-year-old from Shanghai. Gong is the second graduate, and first pitcher, to sign with a Major League team out of MLB's development centers in China.

Known as "Sea," Gong pitched for China in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was listed on their roster at 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds. Gong gave up one hit and recorded one out in a 7-1 loss to Japan on March 10. He also threw 15 scoreless innings at the Asia U18 championship last September in Taiwan, where he was named the tournament's top right-handed pitcher.

The Pirates announced the signing Tuesday afternoon. Gong will report to the club's Pirate City complex in Bradenton, Fla., and begin his professional career with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates.

Gong is said to speak English and has made several trips to the United States, including a two-month stay last fall to take part in the BlueClaws Baseball Academy in Lakewood, N.J. He began playing baseball through MLB's Play Ball program in Shanghai.

Outfielder Xu Guiyuan, known as "Itchy Xu," signed with the Orioles in 2015, becoming the first player from MLB's three development centers in China to sign with a club. But unlike Gong, Guiyuan started his baseball career with a local team before reporting to the MLB Development Center.

The Pirates have long sought out talent where others may not look. This season, they have called up reliever Dovydas Neverauskas, the first Lithuanian to reach the Majors, and infielder Gift Ngoepe, the first African-born Major Leaguer. In 2008, the Pirates signed pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, who became the first professional baseball players from India.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.