Minors Report: Yoslan Herrera

Minors Report: Yoslan Herrera

BRADENTON, Fla. -- When the Pirates signed Yoslan Herrera back in December 2006, the unanimous thought within the organization was that Herrera potentially had the ability to throw a fastball that could surpass the 90 mph mark in the near future.

Herrera started last year with a fastball that clocked in just the mid-80s range. And though that increased slightly by the end of the season, Herrera's peak velocity was still only approaching the mid-to-upper-80's. And according to Kyle Stark, the Pirates' director of player development, Herrera came into camp this year throwing at that same speed.

The question now is, how realistic an expectation for a velocity in the low-90s still exists?

"I think we're moving toward that," Stark said. "When you don't pitch in a few years, you lose some of that, and it's just going to take a little while to get back there."

Herrera defected from Cuba in July 2005, and missed playing time before the Pirates signed him to a Major League contract. He went 6-9 with a 4.59 ERA in 25 starts at Double-A Altoona last year and has been pegged to start in the Curve's rotation again this season.

Though Herrera was a part of the first wave of cuts from Major League camp, various talent evaluators all agreed that Herrera should still be listed among the top pitching prospects in the organization.

"It's mind-boggling to think about what we put these guys through," general manager Neal Huntington said of the transition from defecting from Cuba to playing Major League ball. "He's done a nice job. This is an important year for him and he looks better this year than he did a year ago with his delivery and with his consistency of stuff."

Soaking it all in: Being among the first group of players cut from Major League camp earlier this week wasn't a surprise to pitcher Daniel Moskos, the team's first-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He had earned an invitation to camp by way of the contract he signed with the team last year, and he took advantage of the opportunity to prove that his abilities made him well worth being the No. 4 overall pick.

"Seeing the general manager on an everyday basis and the manager, and working with the pitching coach by my side, it makes you feel like you're wanted," Moskos said. "[I've got] a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge and a huge advantage getting to work with big-league guys, big-league coaches."

The left-hander also made quite the impression during his near month-long time at camp.

"We're excited to have him," Huntington said. "He's carried himself well in camp. He's been professional. He's worked hard. He's listened. He's tried to make the adjustments that we've tried to make with him."

According to Huntington, Moskos will be a starter this season and will most likely begin in Class A Hickory.

Where to start: The new Pirates regime is taking a different approach in its developmental plan for many of its young prospects -- particularly pitchers -- in its organization. Changes can particularly be noticed in two specific areas.

First, the organization plans to develop many of its top arms as starters. While this doesn't mean that all of these pitchers will ultimately become starters in the higher Minor League and then Major League level, it's the ideal way to develop a pitcher's longevity, according to Huntington and Stark.

"Our focus with all of our young pitchers is that we want to start our best arms until they show they are not capable or we feel that they risk injury because of delivery flaws or arm action flaws or workload flaws," Huntington said.

The organization is also going to look at putting players in Minor League levels where they have had success before. In other words, even if a player could legitimately be ready for Triple-A -- Herrera being a good example of that -- the organization will often start that player one tier lower in order to first establish confidence and success instead of forcing them to worry about survival. That's why Herrera will be starting the season at Double-A.

They're No. 1: It's been nearly eight years since Sean Burnett was made a first-round Draft pick by the Pirates. The organization developed Burnett, now 25, as a starter, but Burnett has since changed his focus and now has put himself in position to make the club out of Spring Training as a reliever.

The openings in the 'pen are there, and Burnett insists that the embarrassment of recently being taken off the 40-man roster is fuel for the fire.

But according to pitching coach Jeff Andrews, not even the best motivation can help Burnett in the same way being healthy has. With Andrews having worked with Burnett for parts of three different seasons during Burnett's time in the Minors, Andrews said that he has seen a vast difference in the movement of Burnett's pitches since this year. It's movement, said Andrews, that he has not seen since Burnett's Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in 2004.

"He's all about arm speed and how quick he moves his arm in his release, and that's how you get a tighter rotation on the ball so that you can get your movement back," Andrews said. "That's where he is right now."

"[Last year], he still had the movement, but he didn't have the quickness to it," he added. "The ball still took the same path. There was just no action to it."

Class of '07: With all the hype surrounding Moskos, Duke Welker, the right-hander that the Pirates selected behind Moskos last year, has spent the past year flying under the radar. However, with an above-average fastball clocking in near the mid-90s, he hasn't missed that radar of the development team.

"I see why scouts were very high on him and why our development staff wants him," Stark said after watching Welker throw a side session at Pirate City. "He's a big, physical kid that has some stuff. There are weapons there that depending on how he develops, how his pitches develop, how he develops as a person, that will dictate what role he will play in the big leagues."

Stark said that the organization has not yet determined whether they see Welker's future panning out in a starting or relieving role.

What they're saying: "I'm going to go out there thinking I have a chance. I've been told that I have to go out there and prove that I'm healthy. They're going to give me a fair chance. I just have to prove that I'm healthy." -- Burnett

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.