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August 11, 2011

Former Punxsutawney graduate Nick Gillung delivers a pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals' Rookie League affiliate Johnson City Cardinals. (Photo courtesy of the Johnson City Cardinals)

With former Punxsu-tawney Area High School catcher Devin Mesoraco possibly days away from a trip to the Majors, another former Punxsy player's journey to the pros is just beginning.

While Mesoraco bypassed college and started playing Minor League Baseball immediately, Gillung went on to pitch four seasons at Mercyhurst College, where he put up some impressive numbers.

In his final season with the Lakers, Gillung went 8-2 and posted a 2.60 ERA. Perhaps most impressively, Gillung struck out 102 hitters, averaging over 13 strikeouts per nine innings, a statistic that led the country in Division II baseball.

Gillung's success at Mercyhurst led to his selection by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 19th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in June.

Though the Minor League Baseball system seems simple at first glance, there are a few leagues aside from the Class A, AA and AAA leagues that many fans are familiar with.

The first of those leagues is the Class A-Short Season league. The Pirates are represented in Short-A by the State College Spikes.

Short-A teams play a shortened season, from June to early September, and have restrictions on how old players can be.

Another of those leagues is the rookie league, where Gillung's professional baseball career is off to a solid start.

The Rookie League season resembles the short season's schedule, but the rosters are limited to rookies.

Gillung pitches out of the bullpen for the Johnson City Cardinals, who bear the name of the Major League club that drafted him.

Johnson City leads the Western Division of the Appalachian League, and Gillung has been one of its strongest pitchers out of the bullpen.

Unlike following a position player's progress, or even a starting pitcher's, it is impossible to guess when Gillung will be called upon to pitch.

Relief pitchers can go two weeks between appearances, or two days, depending on the team's need.

One thing is certain, though. Gillung has been up to the task each time his name has been called this season.

In 10 appearances, Gillung has pitched a total of 17 innings and allowed just two runs.

In his most recent appearance Wednesday, he entered the game in the sixth and pitched through the eighth, earning his third hold of the season.

Gillung's 1.06 ERA is much lower than Appalachian League leader Nick Graffeo, whose ERA is 1.77, but Gillung doesn't meet the .8 innings pitched per team game qualifier to be considered in that category.

Whether he finds himself on the leader board for such statistics or not, though, consistent pitching like he has displayed may lead to further success in the future.

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