During his time in a big league bullpen, lefthander Daniel Herrera got hitters out with craftiness and a filthy screwball. His fastball barely sat in the low-80s—blowing hitters away wasn’t in Herrera’s repertoire.
In high school, though? Herrera was trying to throw cheddar.
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“I was a much different pitcher—if you would’ve asked me at 18 I would’ve said I was a flamethrower,” said Herrera. “I was just trying to throw hard and throw the biggest curveballs (…) but I maybe topped out at 86-87 in high school.”
A fastball hitting 86-87 in high school isn’t slow, but for a guy listed at 5’ 6” with zero physical projection left, it wasn’t going to net Herrera nationwide looks. The diminutive lefthander was lightly recruited, garnering looks only from local junior colleges or NAIA schools near his hometown of Odessa, TX, until six shutout innings in the Connie Mack World Series caught the eye of Rich Alday, then the head coach at University of New Mexico.
Alday didn’t see height as much as he saw a kid who could just get guys out throwing at any velocity. Herrera signed with New Mexico, his only Division 1 offer.
He learned quickly that 86-87 straight over the top doesn’t fare as well in the Mountain West. Adjustments needed to be made, and quickly. Herrera dropped his arm slot and leaned into learning to move the ball and locate his pitches.
“Just trying to find the strike zone with the sinker was the first thing on the list,” said Herrera. “But, at that point too, as soon as I went to that lower slot my curveball vanished.”
Regardless of if he had a reliable breaking ball or not, Herrera slotted into UNM’s rotation as a freshman, but spent his first two seasons getting hit around as he learned how to pitch and develop a pitch mix. It was during this time, when in search of a better change-up, that he developed his screwball.
Armed with the screwball and a keen knowledge of how to keep hitters off-balance, Herrera took off during his junior season. He turned in one of the greatest season’s in New Mexico baseball history, garnering Mountain West co-Pitcher of the Year honors and catching the eye of both MLB scouts and the late Hall of Famer (and then-San Diego State head coach) Tony Gwynn.
“I remember shaking his hand after the series, and he said something to the effect of ‘Go get them in pro ball, kid,’” said Herrera. “To hear something like that from someone like him, it was just one of those…