Bucs land Clemson closer with top pick
Fifth time in seven years Pirates use No. 1 pick on college hurler
PITTSBURGH -- Within two hours of becoming a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, Clemson pitcher Daniel Moskos had already learned something important about being a Bucs pitcher: it's always good to knock on wood.
Moskos, who was selected by the Pirates with the fourth overall pick in the First-Year Player's Draft on Thursday, knows the history behind the pitchers Pittsburgh has drafted in recent years. But he continued by saying that he has no reason to believe he's going to follow the same path.
"I haven't had any trouble with my arm," said Moskos, with an audible sound of him knocking on wood in the background. "I'm hoping that I can keep my arm in good shape and not have to worry about any of that in the future."
The Pirates are hopeful, as well, having used their top selection to land the second left-handed collegiate pitcher in the Draft. The Devil Rays took southpaw David Price from Vanderbilt with the No. 1 pick.
Sitting on a hotel couch alongside his parents and Clemson pitching coach Kevin O'Sullivan in Starkville, Miss., Moskos learned the news as Commissioner Bud Selig made the announcement.
"I knew there was a possibility I could go to the Pirates, although I thought it was a slight chance," said Moskos, who is the fifth college pitcher drafted in the first round by Pittsburgh in the last seven Drafts. "I didn't think it was actually a high percentage. I couldn't believe it. It was a big shock."
Ranked as a top-10 prospect by Baseball America, Moskos had been dubbed by numerous scouts as the best collegiate closer available this year. And while his mental approach and aggressive nature have allowed him to thrive in the closer's role, Moskos also showcased an ability to start this season.
It's a new role that Moskos said he likes, and one he would love to pursue at the Major League level. Though at this point, he's not about to get picky.
"I really like the routine I can get into throwing [as a starter]," said Moskos, who graduated from Damien High School in La Verne, Calif., the same high school that produced Mark McGwire. "I believe the path to the Majors is probably a little bit quicker as a reliever, but I am willing to take a little more time to be a starter. However they want to use me is fine. I just want to get out there and pitch and play baseball."
While Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said the club has not determined Moskos' role, Pirates senior director of scouting Ed Creech said he sees Moskos succeeding in the Majors as a closer.
The left-hander has a fastball that tops out at 95 mph to complement a wicked slider, which Moskos called his put-away pitch. It's that one-two punch that has the Pirates enthusiastic about his potential at the back end of the bullpen.
|4||Moskos, Daniel||Clemson U||LHP|
|68||Welker, Matthew||U Arkansas Fayetteville||RHP|
|98||Friday, Brian||Rice U||SS|
|128||Latimore, Frederick||Middle Creek HS||CF|
|158||Walker, Andrew||Texas Christian U||C|
"He's [also] got the mentality for it," said Creech, who watched Moskos pitch four times this spring. "He throws strikes. He's got power pitches."
The Clemson southpaw did move to the Tigers' rotation this season, however, making nine of his 26 season appearances as a starter after working last offseason on his changeup.
Moskos is still pitching for the Tigers, who moved on to the NCAA Super Regionals earlier in the week. Through the first round of the postseason, the 21-year-old southpaw has the sixth-best ERA in the ACC this season at 2.91, and he is 3-5 with 74 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings.
The lefty also made an impression on the Pirates' scouting staff when he pitched for the USA National Team last summer, picking up six saves in 18 appearances to help lead the team to a gold medal in Cuba.
"He is a very competitive guy," said Littlefield, who spent three years as an assistant coach at Clemson during the 1980s. "He's got a strong, aggressive approach. He's pitched at the highest level in college baseball, pitched internationally, pitched in Cuba, pitched in the Cape Cod League."
The Pirates are hopeful that Moskos' role as a reliever during much of his time in Clemson means that he has experienced less wear and tear on his arm and can avoid season-ending injuries like so many of Pittsburgh's recent picks.
Of the last five first-round pitchers the Pirates have drafted, four have had season-ending surgeries.
"[Clemson coach] Jack Leggett handles his pitchers properly," Littlefield said. "I think part of that is that [Moskos] has relieved for a while, and just as a reliever, your innings aren't going to add up. It's something as a package of things that you take into account."
Moskos follows Clint Johnston (1998), Bobby Bradley (1999), Sean Burnett (2000), John Van Benschoten (2001), Bryan Bullington (2002), Paul Maholm (2003) and Brad Lincoln (2006) as pitchers Pittsburgh has selected with its first-round pick in the past 10 years.
Moskos has a little more business to take care of before he begins negotiating a contract with the Pirates. The left-hander will start for Clemson on Friday in the first game of the Tigers' Super Regional matchup against Mississippi State. The game begins at noon and will be televised on ESPN.
It's been a way for the 21-year-old Moskos to find a release for all the Draft hype, and a chance to earn the Tigers a College World Series berth that eluded them a year ago.
"It's been relatively easy to stay calm because I have had college baseball to focus on," said Moskos, a second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection. "I'm a pretty good competitor, and what I want to do is win here and get my team back to Omaha [site of the College World Series]. It's been a little bit easier than maybe for other players who aren't playing baseball right now."
Moskos is the second notable Clemson pitcher the Pirates have drafted in recent years. Pittsburgh took right-hander Kris Benson with the first overall selection in the 1996 First-Year Player Draft.
Moskos also becomes the second No. 4 pick for the Tigers this year, joining Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams, who was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft in April.
Though the Pirates organization seems to be healthy in pitchers at the Minor League level, the Pirates opted for another left-handed arm rather than using their selection to take a hitter, such as Georgia Tech's Matt Wieters, who was still available when Pittsburgh made its pick.
Littlefield said that signability and the fact that Wieters and other top position players available were represented by agent Scott Boras, who is sure to demand a high signing bonus for the players he represents, did not affect Pittsburgh's decision to avoid Boras clients.
Instead, Littlefield insisted, the Pirates took the player they thought would be best suited for their organization.
"Value is more pertinent in regards to how we evaluate the player and if he is of value for the pick we are selecting," Littlefield said. "We got the guy that we wanted. In regards to other players, we decided to get who was the best for us."
As he talked about the dream-come-true day he was having, Moskos, who spent much of his childhood in the South, admitted to having a soft spot for the Braves, who he considers his hometown team.
But then he paused.
"But I have to say the Pittsburgh Pirates are probably my new favorite team," he said.
A look at the Pirates' other Day 1 Draft picks:
Second round (No. 68 overall): Matthew (Duke) Welker
Scouts say that the right-handed Welker from the University of Arkansas has an above-average fastball that clocks in at the mid-90s, along with an average slider that could make him a solid No. 4 or No. 5 starter in the future. The 21-year-old junior went 7-5 with a 3.59 ERA for the Razorbacks this season, with 80 strikeouts in 97 2/3 innings. Welker was a 34th-round pick by the Seattle Mariners out of Woodinville (Wash.) High School in 2004.
Third round (No. 98 overall): Brian Friday
The Rice University right-handed-hitting shortstop has garnered attention with his above-average speed and strong throwing arm. Friday's numbers dropped slightly after a breakout sophomore season in which he was named a first-team All-American. However, the 21-year-old junior still led the Owls with 14 stolen bases, while hitting .341 with 28 RBIs.
Fourth round (No. 128 overall): Frederick (Quincy) Latimore
After selecting three college players with their first three picks, the Pirates chose Latimore, a senior center fielder at Middle Creek (N.C.) High School. The 18-year-old, with above-average speed and power, was recently among 144 high school baseball players invited to take part in USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars to be held later this month.
Fifth round (No. 158 overall): Andrew Walker
The right-handed-hitting catcher from Texas Christian University finished second on the Horned Frogs with a .328 average and knocked 12 home runs and 58 RBIs. Scouts have been impressed with the 21-year-old's approach at the plate and the power potential in his swing. The Houston native was named to the Conference USA first team as a catcher last season, and he then participated in the Cape Cod League, where he hit .271 with two home runs and 19 RBIs.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.