PITTSBURGH -- Jim Leyland, in his homecoming to Pittsburgh, made it no secret on Friday that he is a fan of the direction the Pirates are headed.
Leyland's ties to the city are numerous. He remains a resident of Pittsburgh, even though his 11-year managerial stint with the Pirates ended after the 1996 season. He was the last manager to lead the organization to a winning season, though Leyland was also around to see the first four losing seasons in a streak that now sits at 18.
Having played the Pirates three straight years in Interleague Play, Leyland likes what he sees.
"Believe me, I'm glad to see it," Leyland said. "I scouted a few years when I wasn't managing, and I was here and they were struggling so much. It was sad for me. I felt bad. But this is a great baseball town. If you really look way back, it was probably a baseball town before it was a football town. It's a great place and, in my opinion -- I'm a little biased, but I think they have the best ballpark in America."
Leyland pointed particularly to the young talent and increased emphasis on spending in the Draft as the most encouraging signs that the Pirates' organization is taking steps forward. And being as attached to the organization as he is, Leyland knows specifics.
"[Jameson] Taillon is a tremendous talent," said Leyland of the Pirates' 2010 first-round Draft pick. "The kid that's down there in extended [spring training] right now that's having trouble throwing strikes is a tremendous talent, because he's got a 95-100 mph fastball. I saw the kid in a showcase. Stetson Allie, I think his name is.
"And they've got one of the best young players in all of baseball in center field, [Andrew McCutchen]. This guy's a dynamic player, in my opinion. [Neil] Walker, the [Pedro] Alvarez kid, [Jose] Tabata -- they're definitely headed in the right direction. I know people here probably have a tendency to say they've heard this all before. I don't want to get into what's going to happen when they become free agents. That's none of my business. That's not for me. But they're definitely headed in the right direction, and I think Clint's brought energy. I don't think there's any question about that. I watched the game yesterday. They're the real deal."