Bradenton, Fla. — A couple of the Pirates’ early 2016 draft picks, fifth-rounder Blake Cederlind and seventh-rounder Brent Gibbs, had their first pro seasons cut short by injuries. Cederlind, a right-handed pitcher, and Gibbs, a catcher, both were drafted out of junior college and went to Bristol after signing. Cederlind got into only 17.1 innings before forearm tightness ended his season. Gibbs was limited to 55 at-bats by a badly bruised wrist.
Both started for low A West Virginia in an exhibition game against the Yankees today at Pirate City and showed little sign of rust. Cederlind dominated through three innings, the only baserunner reaching on an error. He struck out four and got quite a few swings and misses with a fastball that sat in the mid-90s and a sharp slider. Gibbs hit several balls hard, including a long double his first time up.
Both the Power and Bradenton are starting to resemble what they will probably look like once the season starts. Typically, in minor league camp, many players appear a level higher than they eventually will because much of the Triple-A roster is in Major League camp. With the Pirates making numerous cuts recently, that’s changing. Guys like Cole Tucker, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Will Craig, for instance, are back with the high-A team now, although they didn’t play today.
Several guys who did play for Bradenton, though, were Tony Watson, Daniel Hudson and Juan Nicasio, who came over from the Major League team to throw an inning each. All three faced exactly three hitters. Watson struck out the side. Hudson fanned the first two hitters he faced and walked the third, at which point the inning was rolled over. Nicasio got two fly outs and a ground out.
Josh Bell also batted in both game. I saw eight plate appearances in all, which resulted in a long opposite-field double (hitting right-handed) and two singles, one of the infield variety. Bell walked once and fanned four times. On the whole he didn’t look good. He got fooled repeatedly by off-speed stuff, taking pitches right over the plate and then waving half-heartedly at pitches well out of reach.
Following the three Major League relievers, James Marvel threw four innings for Bradenton. The Pirates drafted Marvel out of Duke knowing he’d miss a year due to Tommy John surgery. Today he threw 89-91 MPH, along with a solid curve. He missed very few bats but got a lot of ground balls, at least as long as his command was good. In his second inning, he walked two batters and then got hammered, allowing six runs without recording an out before the innings was rolled over. He bounced back in his third inning and got hit a little in his fourth.
Bradenton also got an inning from recent signee Holden Helmink. Arizona drafted Helmink in 2014, but he threw fewer than 28 innings with the Diamondbacks before getting released. He then pitched very briefly in independent ball. The Pirates signed him after he was clocked at 98 MPH at a training facility. Today he was sitting at 94 and also threw a curve that could be tightened up. He had some control issues but got through a scoreless inning with the help of a double play.
For the Power, Cederlind was followed for three innings by Geoff Hartlieb, who pitched in relief last year for Bristol. He threw 90-93, reaching 95 a few times. After Hartlieb came Joel Cesar, who got some notice when Baseball America included him in a list of minor leaguers who’ve hit 100 MPH. In fall instructionals last year, Cesar was sitting at 97 and also threw a rudimentary 91 MPH slider. Today he was sitting at 94 with an 83-85 MPH hard curve or slurve. His control, although it still needs work, was much improved over what I saw last fall. In his first inning he got a lot of swings and misses with the fastball, which seems to have good late life. He got hit a little more in his second inning and gave up a run, as the hitters seemed to sit on the fastball. Cesar has thrown a grand total of just 6.2 innings as a pro, all of that in the Dominican Summer League, so he was facing much more experienced hitters.
The Pirates seem to be continuing their habit of trying anybody and everybody at third base. Jordan George, who played first last year, started at third for Bradenton and Hunter Owen, who played mostly left (but a little at third and second) last year, started there for the Power. Owen also hit a long HR onto the roof of the batting cage building beyond left field. Albert Baur added a couple long drives for the Power, including a triple to straightaway center.
West Virginia will probably need to get a lot of its offense from Sandy Santos and Victor Fernandez, who started in center and left, respectively. Santos had three hits, including a long double, and picked up a run through aggressive baserunning. Carlos Munoz also appears to be headed back to the Power.
** Shortstop Erik Forgione retired on Thursday. He spent the last three seasons with Jamestown/Morgantown after being drafted in the 25th round in 2014. The 24-year-old Forgione hit .246/.308/.298 in 130 career games, spending most of his time at shortstop. He played every position except pitcher and catcher.
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.