BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates' first day of spring training brought some surprising news about their most recent first-round draft pick:
Danny Moskos, the left-handed reliever taken out of Clemson University last summer and the franchise's top pitching prospect, will be converted to a starter.
"I'm excited," Moskos said yesterday. "I've always considered myself a starter, and this is a great opportunity to show that."
General manager Neal Huntington explained the team's decision as being part of a wider plan to make starting the default mode for all legitimate prospects, barring health concerns or performance variables.
"Our philosophy going forward, for Moskos and all our young pitchers, is that we want to start our best arms," Huntington said. "We feel there's a great benefit to having to pitch five or six innings, dealing with some adversity, having to use second or third pitches, plus the time they get between starts to work on their delivery and stuff. They still can end up as relievers, but we feel it's best to do things in this order."
Huntington's model is not new. Many relievers, including the Pirates' John Grabow, were starters in the low minors. But it represents a 180-degree turn from the plans that previous management had for Moskos, who immediately upon being drafted in June was declared a reliever by former general manager Dave Littlefield and former scouting director Ed Creech, with a goal of moving Moskos through the system more quickly.
Moskos, 21, made 10 starts in 81 career appearances at Clemson, all in his junior and final season. After the draft, he took five weeks off and reported to rookie-level State College. He initially struggled there, especially with control, before closing with four scoreless outings and a 4.26 ERA.
"I finally got back into shape," Moskos said. "It's unfortunate that the season ended just as things were getting better, but I'm just looking forward now."
That holds true, he added, for how the public might perceive the Pirates' controversial decision to select him, now and in the future.
It was almost universally accepted in the baseball community that the team's best option with the No. 4 overall pick was slugging catcher Matt Wieters of Georgia Tech, and that view was boosted when Wieters was the player taken at No. 5 by the Baltimore Orioles. Wieters signed for a $6 million bonus, Moskos for $2.75 million, prompting accusations of the Pirates being cheap, even though all concerned -- Littlefield included -- insisted that they got the player Littlefield wanted.
Moskos' take on being compared to Wieters?
"You know, paying attention to that isn't going to do me any good," he said. "I've played against the kid, and I know he's a good baseball player. Any team would be lucky to have him. I'm sure there are other teams that would have wanted to have me, but nobody focuses on that. I don't really care, to be honest."
Moskos smiled as he spoke, emblematic of the fun he clearly was having as part of his first major-league camp. He has no chance to make the main roster -- his likely assignment will be high Class A Lynchburg -- but he seemed to relish sharing a clubhouse with those who will.
"I'm here with so many of the faces I see on TV, and it's pretty cool."
The opening of camp also marked John Russell's first chance to take the field as the Pirates' manager, and he spoke glowingly of a workout that spanned nearly two hours and involved all five fields of the sun-splashed Pirate City complex.
"Outstanding," Russell called it. "Guys were ready. They were attentive to what was going on and did their jobs the right way. It was crisp."
Not much was out of the ordinary as far as the drills, but tangible signs abounded of the crispness Russell cited, from the more detailed workout schedules posted in the clubhouse to bench coach Gary Varsho shouting "It's camp time!" when the players finished their opening stretch to the entire staff moving methodically from post to post and offering group and individual instruction.
Hitting coach Don Long spent a half-hour working one-on-one with injured outfielder Chris Duffy, hitting off a tee.
"I'm not saying I'm going to be this huge difference-maker, that this is going to be something where people go, 'Wow.' It's just the way I like to do things," Russell said. "I've always felt it makes a difference to create accountability and do things right. That's when you see real change."
And how did it feel to suit up as manager?
"Like I told the players this morning, every time I put on a uniform, it's a nice feeling. But this is probably the best feeling I've ever had. Getting on the field with the coaches, the beautiful weather ... it's an exciting time."
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published February 16, 2008 5:00 AM