Danny Moskos couldn’t help but laugh by the time I approached him in the Pirates’ clubhouse Monday afternoon, knowing that I was about to ask the lefty reliever another round of questions he had already endured.
With catcher Matt Wieters and the Baltimore Orioles in town for a three-game series, Moskos knew that it was inevitable their spots in the 2007 Major League Baseball draft would be a column topic.
That the Pirates picked Moskos fourth overall in favor of Wieters, who went fifth to the Orioles, drew plenty of criticism. Not just because Wieters was pegged the best prospect by Baseball America, but that the same publication ranked Moskos the fifth-best pitcher and eighth-best prospect.
That it came only six years after the Bucs took Bryan Bullington first overall only made matters worse. Where Bullington was immediately projected by Pirates GM Dave Littlefield as a No. 3 starter – instead of the ace that his draft position demanded – Moskos said he wanted to be a starter shortly after Littlefield and scouting director Ed Creech talked of him as a reliever.
“It’s something that it seems like Pirate fans aren’t going to forget,” Moskos said. “At the same time, you can’t get consumed by it because it is out of your control. But it is interesting that we’re playing each other in interleague play.”
Moskos and Wieters were rivals of sorts before the draft, as Clemson and Georgia Tech played against each other with some frequency in the Atlantic Coast Conference with Clemson and Georgia Tech, respectively. Where Wieters said he holds no grudge against the Pirates – three other teams also passed on him – he was complimentary toward Moskos.
“We played against each other at least three times a year, a couple years more often than that,” Wieters said. “He was an outstanding pitcher in college, and I thought he got of unfair criticism because he has outstanding stuff. He’s going to be a big-league pitcher for a long time.
“That wasn’t fair to the guy. He’s a left-handed pitcher with a good arm, and those kinds of guys are valuable at the big-league level. When he was in the bullpen at Clemson, he was as good as any reliever in the whole country.”
Moskos has struggled recently against left-handed hitters, which hasn’t helped his cause in the Bucs’ bullpen. On Sunday, manager Clint Hurdle opted for Tony Watson instead of Moskos against the Cleveland Indians. On Monday, Hurdle used Moskos and he got Wieters to fly out to end the sixth.
At least Moskos is playing in the big leagues, and won’t be remembered as a bust in the same sense as Bullington, who was 0-3, with a 5.89 ERA in six games for the Pirates and 1-9 with a 5.62 ERA over five seasons.
“I think so,” Moskos said. “It improves my side of the argument, I guess.”
* The 25-year-old Wieters has already drawn criticism for failing to live up to the hype with his bat. Then again, he was being compared to Joe Mauer, who might be a once-in-a-generation catcher.
In the offseason, Baseball Prospectus called Wieters one of the “most disappointing prospects of all time,” adding that “his glove and the dream of what might have been will keep him around for years, but stardom now seems spectacularly unlikely.”
Wieters isn’t worried about living up to the lofty billing.
“It’s something you can’t worry about, and I don’t worry about expectations that come from different books or newspapers,” Wieters said. “Once the first pitch is thrown, it’s just about playing the game. And this game is hard enough to worry about things that go on off the field that you can’t control. The big thing for me is, being up here, being part of this team and helping this team win.”
Wieters batted .288 with nine home runs and 43 RBI in 96 games as a rookie in 2009 but slipped to .249 with 11 homers and 55 RBI in 130 games last season. His career .265/.393/.718 in batting/slugging/OPS is disappointing, however, for someone projected as a switch hitter with power.
“I’ve always thought that, as a catcher, defense is the No. 1 priority,” Wieters said. “Of course, you want to be a guy who’s driving in runs, as well as stop them, but if you can get the pitching staff going as well as they can get going, then that’s going to be more valuable than any runs you can drive in.”
* One of the ironies not lost on John Russell is that he finally gets to work with Wieters, who could have solved some of the Pirates’ catching conundrums when Russell was their manager the past three seasons.
“JR has been huge in helping me,” Wieters said. “It’s always nice to have a catcher who’s caught in the big leagues and already can see things that you’re seeing behind the plate.”
Orioles coaches and teammates alike marvel at his mastery in calling games and protecting the plate as a third-year pro, which is where Wieters has made his mark.
“Not only does he know hitters, but he knows all the pitchers,” said Orioles closer Kevin Gregg, who spent last season with Toronto. “He knows what they’re successful with, where they want to go so the game is seamless.
“I’m not surprised at all. You could tell right away, since spring training, that this guy is something special. This is a guy that gets it, who understands and is blessed with great talent. He’s an up-and-coming superstar.”