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Nationals sign former first-round pick pitcher Tyler Herron

Of the handful of minor league deals the Nationals have doled out this winter, a few are notable: the signings of left-handed relievers BIll Bray and Fernando Abad and infielder Will Rhymes. But, in early December, the Nationals made a small move in signing right-handed starter Tyler Herron, a former first-round pick in 2005, to a minor league deal. Herron is an interesting addition because a major offseason priority for the Nationals is to bolster their starting pitching depth across the organization.

Herron, 26, was selected 46th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2005 draft out of Wellington Community High in Wellington, Fla. High school pitchers take longer to develop, and the 6-foot-3 right-hander spent five seasons in the Cardinals’ minor league system, reaching the Class AA level, and posting only one sub-4.00 ERA season. He then spent part of the 2009 season in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, also at their Class AA affiliate.

According to a 2010 Kalamazoo Gazette story, non-criminal off-the-field issues and immaturity were reasons for Herron’s struggles, and he dabbled in jobs in pest control and pool cleaning before landing in the independent leagues. In 2010, Herron was out of the major league system, pitching for the Kalamazoo Kings in the independent Frontier League, mainly as a reliever and reportedly hitting between 89 and 93 mph on his fastball.

Herron missed 2011 with an arm injury and landed with the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks of the independent American Association league last season. There, he went 12-3 with a 3.29 ERA in 23 games, 17 of them starts, over 123 innings with 105 strikeouts and only 30 walks. Over his seven seasons across the minor and independent leagues, Herron has a career 3.99 ERA over 631 1/3 innings with a 1.291 WHIP.

Herron worked out for the Nationals near the end of spring training and they kept tabs on him last season, according to a team official. They liked the way he threw the ball and the depth on his offspeed pitch, and a Nationals official has known Herron since his youth. While they won’t define his role just yet, Herron is the mold of player the Nationals are seeking to bolster their starting depth in the minors, a reclamation project of sorts.

The Nationals have had success working with players who have fallen on hard times or struggled recently. They signed reliever and former closer Michael Gonzalez to a minor league deal, coming off of a knee injury, and got valuable innings out of him before he agreed to a major league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers last week. They signed Zach Duke to a minor league deal, too, and he pitched well enough in Class AAA Syracuse to earn a September call-up and, this winter, a one-year major league deal. They also gave oft-injured Christian Garcia a chance, and he blossomed into a major league reliever and potential starter.