Pirates sticking with inconsistent Cedeno
Shortstop's tools, no immediate options have Bucs standing pat
PITTSBURGH -- The often maddening inconsistencies shown by shortstop Ronny Cedeno throughout his Major League tenure have already surfaced a few times this season.
Cedeno had to be bailed out by Joel Hanrahan during the team's opening series after a ninth-inning throwing error. He nearly gave away the lead one night in St. Louis when he fumbled on a late-inning double-play opportunity. Cedeno was fortunate an error in the 14th inning on Friday didn't ruin the Pirates' chances to win that game, as well.
There are flashes of defensive promise, but the lapses begin to overshadow those when what becomes most consistent is Cedeno's inconsistency. Regardless, a lack of better options and the organization's unwillingness to give up on Cedeno's talent keep the shortstop entrenched in a starting role.
"Part of the reason why we continue to give him the opportunity is that if it clicks, we've got a pretty good Major League shortstop," general manager Neal Huntington said. "In the interim, we've got a Major League shortstop. Whether we like it or not, he's not as far behind the average shortstop that you might like to feel he is and he makes you feel he is sometimes."
The periodic slips in focus will continue to be a concern. The thing is, besides reminding Cedeno of his potential and trying to find ways to steady him, there is little the Pirates can do. Pittsburgh was unsuccessful in its attempts to upgrade the position this offseason despite interest in J.J. Hardy and Jason Bartlett -- both of whom ended up being traded elsewhere.
That left the Pirates little choice but to re-sign Cedeno. The two sides agreed on a $1.85 million deal that includes a club option for 2012.
"You look tools-wise, he can run, throw, hit and hit for power," Huntington said. "He can do a lot of things that Major League shortstops can't do. They just are more consistent. If we can get him to be consistent, we've got a pretty good player. It's a big year for Ronny Cedeno."
But what if that patience runs out? Are there other options?
Indeed, there are additional candidates -- but not necessarily an immediate short-term answer.
Josh Rodriguez is the team's current backup shortstop and has made two starts in place of Cedeno so far. However, the Rule 5 Draft pick is inexperienced, and there is a concern that his bat is not yet ready to play at the Major League level.
It appears premature to anoint Rodriguez, 26, as an upgrade.
"I think defensively he's more comfortable than he is on offense right now," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I think the game is still moving a little quick on offense."
Waiting in Triple-A is Pedro Ciriaco, who would be a solid defensive option, but whose bat also lags. To this point, compromising offense for a steadier glove isn't a tradeoff Pittsburgh is ready to make.
But while there may not be an ideal second option behind Cedeno this year, the Pirates are hopeful that's not the case for long. And it's why 2011 sets up to be a critical year for Chase d'Arnaud.
If the organization's top middle-infield prospect can rebound from a subpar 2010 season and flash the skills that prompted the Pirates to take him in the fourth round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, the club could have its long-term answer at shortstop beginning next season.
"Chase is a guy we've always liked a lot," Huntington said. "He had a breakout year in '09, and some people jumped off his bandwagon a little bit last year. We didn't. We believe he has a good future."
After spending last season in Double-A, d'Arnaud is now with Triple-A Indianapolis. He'll spend most of his time at short, where he committed 28 errors last season. Without question, improving defensively is a must before the Pirates could consider d'Arnaud as a Major League option.
"I'm just trying to become polished," d'Arnaud said. "I look at myself as a player that can do everything well. I feel like I am capable of that. If I don't achieve that, I feel like I would have disappointed myself."
The Pirates are hopeful that the presence of infield coordinator Gary Green will help d'Arnaud out as well. Green was d'Arnaud's manager in low Class A West Virginia, and he helped the infielder make significant strides on defense when d'Arnaud was there in 2009.
Now, Green will be a frequent tutor in Indianapolis.
There is work to be done offensively, as well. After a breakout season in '09, d'Arnaud took a step back in Double-A. He batted just .247 and struck out 102 times in 530 at-bats while facing tougher competition. His 33 stolen bases were a plus, but there must be a focus on getting on base more this year.
"It was the first time that I had really struggled in professional baseball," d'Arnaud said of his 2010 season. "You learn from that and feel like the next time, if I were to face adversity such as that, I'd be able to make it through that and know that everything is going to be OK. Not that I didn't think everything was going to be OK then, but it's all a process.
"Struggles go hand in hand with progression. Even though it may seem like I regressed, I don't feel like I did. I feel like I still progressed throughout the season and learned from it."
Behind d'Arnaud sits Jordy Mercer, who is starting off in Double-A for a second year. Defensively, Mercer is the best middle infielder in the Pirates' system. Yet he has work to do with the bat in order to move into the Major League picture by next year.
"We've got some guys that need to step forward this year," Huntington said. "We feel we're a lot deeper than most people feel we are. It's not quite as bleak a picture as some like to paint."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.