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Pirates cut Castillo

| Friday, Dec. 7, 2007

NASHVILLE -- Jose Castillo, the Pirates' one-time second baseman of the future, was unconditionally released Thursday to clear roster space for a minor-league relief pitcher.

The Pirates filled Castillo's spot with right-hander Evan Meek, whom they selected yesterday from the Tampa Bay Rays in the Rule 5 draft.

General manager Neal Huntington tried to trade Castillo during the Winter Meetings, which wrapped up yesterday morning. When there were no takers, the Pirates cut Castillo.

"He does have some talent and ability," Huntington said. "We inherited a very difficult situation and tried to see if we could work through it. Ultimately, we decided it wasn't in either party's best interest to continue the relationship."

Castillo, 26, was signed as a non-drafted free agent as a Venezuelan teenager in 1997. In 2004, he jumped directly from Double-A Altoona to the Pirates' roster and hit .256 with eight homers.

Castillo's stock plummeted when Jim Tracy became manager in 2006. Tracy was unhappy with Castillo's work ethic and slashed the infielder's playing time. Last season, Castillo got just 221 at-bats and failed to homer.

Castillo made $1.9 million last year and is due for a raise through arbitration. He became expendable when the Pirates on Monday claimed infielder Josh Wilson off waivers. The Pirates also are close to finalizing a one-year deal with free-agent infielder Chris Gomez.

Yesterday, the Pirates picked up five players in the Rule 5 draft. Two players from the Pirates' farm system -- shortstop Smelin Perez and right-hander Clayton Hamilton -- were chosen by other clubs in the minor-league portions of the draft.

Meek, 24, last season went 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA in 44 relief appearances for Double-A Montgomery. In 67 innings, he had 34 walks and 69 strikeouts.

Meek has a plus fastball -- actually, a cutter -- that's been clocked up to 98 mph. He's learned that dialing it down to the low 90s and mixing a hard slider, curveball and splitter gives him better command.

"Until last year, I always tried to throw every pitch through a wall," Meek said. "Toning it down has really helped me become more consistent. It's something that I wish I'd done three years ago."

Meek will attend the Pirates' minicamp in early January in Bradenton, Fla.

Originally drafted by Minnesota in the 11th round of the 2002 draft, Meek has a career mark of 16-12 in 114 minor-league outings. He posted a 0.93 ERA in nine appearances this year in the Arizona Fall League.

"He's a power arm who gets a lot of ground balls and who can strike guys out," Huntington said. "He had a 3-to-1 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio. When you throw hard and get a lot of ground balls, you give yourself a chance."

The Pirates paid $50,000 to claim Meek. They must keep him in the majors the entire 2008 season or offer him back to Tampa Bay for $25,000.

In the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 draft, the Pirates took right-handers Josh Hill (from Minnesota's system), Mauricio Mendez (from Boston) and lefty Corey Hamman (from Detroit).

In the Double-A portion, the Pirates snagged righty reliever Rafael Cruz Chavez from the Los Angeles Angels' system.

First look
Last season's stats for Evan Meek, the right-handed reliever the Pirates claimed in the Rule 5 draft from the Minnesota Twins:
Double-A Montgomery 2-1 4.30 44 67 74 34 69

"In the past, this organization signed a lot of minor-league free agents who were older and pushed them back," Huntington said. "We're trying to change the philosophy a little bit. We're trying to get guys who have a little bit more of an upside and give guys more of an opportunity. These guys we selected today, we felt there's a lot of upside."

The claims in the Triple- and Double-A portions cost $12,000 apiece.

"It may look like I'm throwing our owner's money around," Huntington said. "But all we have to do is hit on one of these claims and the return will be a hundred-fold. These are low-risk moves. If one guy hits, we're in great shape. If two guys hit, we're phenomenal."

Notes: Huntington said he is "confident" Gomez will sign within the next few days. When the deal is finalized, the Pirates will have to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. ... The Yankees and Astros remain interested in trading for lefty reliever Damaso Marte. ... Trent Jewett will return as manager of Triple-A Indianapolis. Jewett was a finalist for the Pirates' manager job, which went to John Russell. ... No replacement has been named for former Indy pitching coach Jeff Andrews, who now is on Russell's staff.

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