For years, the Pirates invested in the franchise's future heavily enough to inspire the inclusion of stricter parameters for spending on Draft choices into the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. That commitment has had two obvious results: The organization is rich in young talent, and its fans are uncommonly interested in the up-and-comers.
"We've put tremendous time and energy into it," said Larry Broadway, Pittsburgh's director of Minor League operations. "The team finances we've allocated to amateur signings have people excited because of the talent we're bringing in. You definitely sense a lot of excitement in that regard."
The 2011 season could have been the "hump" season for the franchise. Its eight affiliates had an overall winning record, collectively going 20 games over .500, and the talent lode is ready to make a bigger mark.
With the Minor League season getting under way, fans can keep track of the Pirates' top prospects throughout the year on Prospect Watch. And get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of the Pirates' Minor League teams on the Pirates' affiliates page.
Between rising stars with the hype -- right-handers Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole are generally regarded as one of the top tandem of pitching prospects in baseball -- and those who already have the track record -- outfielder Robbie Grossman, the organization's 2011 Player of the Year, and Starling Marte, the hit of this Spring Training -- this season shapes up as the incubator of the next generation of winning Pirates ball.
where to watch
A look at where the Pirates' Top 20 prospects are starting the 2012 season:
Zack Von Rosenberg
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
While much of the high-end talent is on the lower rungs of the ladder, starting the climb, the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians of the International League feature numerous players who have already gained big-league experience and will be sources of help to the '12 Bucs, too.
Contemplating a roster with the likes of pitchers Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson and Justin Wilson, the double-play combo of Chase d'Arnaud and Jordy Mercer, and Marte, Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington noted, "That Indianapolis club has a chance to be a lot of fun this year."
Indianapolis (International League -- Triple-A): In addition to prospects Justin Wilson, Kyle McPherson and Brad Lincoln, the rotation could include Major League vet Jo-Jo Reyes, who could either start or relieve as he makes his way to PNC Park. Bryan Morris, whose stuff is said to be as good as that of anyone in the organization, figures to continue his development as a future closer. Marte and Gorkys Hernandez comprise two-thirds of the outfield.
Altoona (Eastern League -- Double-A): Robbie Grossman, chosen the organization's Player of the Year for scoring the most runs (127) of any Minor Leaguer since 2005 while at Class A Advanced Bradenton, moves up in class. Catcher Tony Sanchez, the Pirates' 2009 first-round Draft pick, returns for another stint, hoping to improve on his .241 average in his Double-A debut. Infielder Jarek Cunningham, only now reaching physical maturity, will be starting his fifth season in the organization at 22.
Bradenton (Florida State League -- Class A Advanced): Marauders' fans will be star-struck, and the team's foes could be shaking their heads for a different reason. Taillon, who got his pro feet wet last year with West Virginia, and Cole, top the rotation. The roster also includes two more of the organization's Top 20 prospects (Alex Dickerson and Colton Cain).
Debuts and Draftees
No. 1 RHP Gerrit Cole: The wraps come off the hard-thrower who, his stuff aside, appealed to the Pirates because of his maturity and Majors-ready demeanor.
No. 2 OF Josh Bell: The outfielder on everyone's 2011 All-America list was considered hands-off because of his college commitment, but then the Bucs handed him a $5 million signing bonus. He's considered the best power hitter in the system.
No. 4 RHP Colten Brewer: 19-year-old who was 8-2 with a 1.43 ERA in his senior year at Canton (Texas) High School.
No. 5 RHP Tyler Glasnow: 6-foot-7 and still growing, this 18-year-old fanned 99 in 67 innings as a Hart (Calif.) High School senior last year.
No. 7 RHP Jake Burnette: He was 8-0, with a 1.71 ERA and helped lead Buford High School to the Georgia state title.
No. 9 RHP Clay Holmes: This Tampa, Fla., native turned 19 on Tuesday. He is a tall, (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) power pitcher -- 126 whiffs in 89 innings as Slocomb High School senior -- and was his class valedictorian as well.
Teams on TV
The Indianapolis Indians are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2012 MiLB.TV package will include more than 2,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
If you didn't get enough of Marte during Spring Training, this will be your opportunity to regularly check out his rush to the Majors and into the Bucs' outfield. And any cracks in the Bucs' rotation will be filled from the ranks of the Indianapolis starters, with Wilson perhaps a step ahead of McPherson.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.