Many Pittsburgh Pirates fans are distraught over the state of the team’s pitching staff heading into the 2020 season. The general feeling is that Pirates ownership has opted to go the thrifty route and neglect the rotation, leaving the Pirates doomed for another sub-par season.
While that may very well be the case, there is a very good reason for optimism for Pirates fans heading into this season, as there is a distinct chance that they may have a dominant bullpen if a couple of young prospects continue their current trajectories.
Recently, Bucs Dugout covered the return of Pirates pitching prospect Nick Burdi who recently returned from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. When healthy, Burdi can hit triple digits with his fastball. Add his blazing fastball to Keone Kela’s 98 mph fastball, Kyle Crick’s 97 mph fastball and Dovydas Neverauskas’ 97 mph fastball and you have more gas than Exxon Mobile at the back end of the Pirates bullpen.
There could be another blazing fastball coming out of the pen later this season for the Pirates. If he can build upon the success he found at Double-A Altoona last season, Blake Cederlind’s 100 mile per hour heater may be blowing batters away in Pittsburgh in 2020.
Originally drafted in the 22nd round of the 2015 draft by the Minnesota Twins, Cederlind opted instead to forgo his professional baseball career and return to Merced College. However, following another stellar year at the junior college, he was selected in the 5th round of the 2016 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the 165th overall selection.
Cederlind would sign for $285,000 and would report immediately to the Bristol Pirates, Pittsburgh’s Rookie League affiliate. However, Cederlind would struggle with control his first two seasons in the minor leagues.
In 2017, Cederlind struggled to the tune of a 7.76 earned run average, a 1.74 WHIP and a 5.28 walk/9-innings rate with the West Virginia Power. The 6’4” and 200-pound righty would turn things around in 2019 with the Pirates Double-A affiliate the Altoona Curve.
Cederlind attributed his turnaround to adding a sinker to his repertoire that had included a four-seam fastball, a cutter, and a changeup. As a result of learning to throw the sinker, he began examining the spin rate and recognized that his 100 mph fastball spin rate was off, which did not allow for much movement.
After changing his grip and becoming more comfortable with how he threw his fastball, positive results soon followed for Cederlind. In Altoona, he would post a 5-1 record in 45 2⁄3 innings pitched with a 1.77 earned run average, 1.02 WHIP and a much lower 3.15 walk/9-innings rate.
Despite having a triple-digit fastball in his arsenal, Cederlind’s strikeout rate is respectable but not as high as one would assume. However, if the 24-year old continues to develop his secondary pitches, his strikeout rate may become elite.
On a scale of 20 to 80 with 50 being average, Cederlind has an incredible rating of 70 on his fastball, a rating of 50 on his cutter, changeup, and sinker and a rating of 40 for his command.
Currently ranked as the 28th best prospect for the Pirates, Cederlind is expected to begin the season in Triple-A Indianapolis, where he made a brief appearance at the end of last season. He was recently named to the Pirates 40-man roster and received an invitation to Spring Training.
It will be worth monitoring Cederlind’s progress with Indianapolis. If he can continue to build upon the success that he had in Altoona last season, there is a very good chance that he will be another addition to the flamethrowers at the back end of the Pittsburgh bullpen this year.