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Pirates notebook: Team claims infielder Engelb Vielma off waivers

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, 7:15 p.m.
Minnesota Twins' Engelb Vielma runs a drill during a spring training baseball workout in Fort Myers, Fla., Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Minnesota Twins' Engelb Vielma runs a drill during a spring training baseball workout in Fort Myers, Fla., Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — A mob gathered around the main podium at the winter meetings Monday when the New York Yankees held a news conference to introduce newly acquired slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

There was no such fanfare about an hour later, when the Pirates made their first move of the meetings.

The team sent an email to announce it claimed infielder Engelb Vielma off waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Vielma, 23, split last season between Double- and Triple-A in the Minnesota Twins' system. He hit a combined .229 with a .552 OPS.

The San Francisco Giants claimed Vielma off waivers Sept. 14. On Nov. 20, the Phillies claimed him. General manager Neal Huntington said Vielma would begin next season with Triple-A Indianapolis.

“We like the defensive abilities,” Huntington said. “We like the youth, and we do think there are some hitter traits there.”

Vielma is primarily a shortstop but also can play second and third base.

Kevin Newman will open the season as Indy's shortstop. Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer will be a free agent after the 2018 season.

This past season, Vielma batted .286 with a .690 OPS at Double-A. After being promoted, he put up just a .206 average and a .493 OPS.

“Our guys like the athlete,” Huntington said, “and they think he's an interesting player.”

Harrison draws interest

A year ago, the Pirates went into the offseason willing to listen to offers for infielder Josh Harrison. That changed when Jung Ho Kang was unable to get a work visa after his third DUI conviction in South Korea.

This winter, even with Kang still out of action, the Pirates again are having trade conversations about Harrison.

The New York Mets reportedly are interested, and the Los Angeles Angels are searching for a leadoff batter and a veteran infielder.

Ready to deal

After a slow start to the offseason, the Shohei Ohtani and Stanton deals were consummated shortly before the winter meetings began. However, Huntington pooh-poohed the notion those moves will trigger an avalanche of trades and signings this week.

“I think the Ohtani and Stanton moves are an icebreaker for those who talk about it,” Huntington said. “For us, we've continued to have conversations before and after, free agent and trade, at all different levels.”

With the Kang era probably over and David Freese unable to be an everyday starter, third base could be one of the Pirates' priorities. Huntington said he will “explore” the free agent and trade markets but indicated Adam Frazier, Sean Rodriguez and Freese could combine to fill the position.

“Part of our challenge last year was that Frazier had to play a lot of outfield, so that took away one of our infield options,” Huntington said. “Now, with three outfielders healthy, knock on wood, and available, knock on wood, we should be in a good spot there.”

Around the horn

Huntington refused to say if he met with the agent for Felipe Rivero, who Saturday said he would be open to a long-term contract offer. Rivero said his agent scheduled a meeting with the Pirates during the winter meetings. ... Huntington reiterated Harrison (broken left hand), Gregory Polanco (strained left hamstring), Francisco Cervelli (left quad irritation) and Austin Meadows (strained oblique) are healthy and having normal, rehab-free offseasons.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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