Talk to baseball fans in the Pittsburgh area and it won't take long to sense the frustration of the losing seasons over the past decade and a half. Who can blame them?
They'd also be dubious when told that the farm system would be providing help -- and hope -- for the future. They've heard it all before, they'd say.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
Well, it might soon be time to believe it. There's still work to be done, but the new regime already has made an imprint on the Minor League front, both in terms of talent and philosophy. It took some risks in the Draft, and while there were some tense moments, they paid off with some top-line talent, most notably uberprospect Pedro Alvarez.
Pirates fans may take a "I'll believe it when I see it" approach, and that's fine. But if things continue along this early path with this management team, they eventually will see it.
Jason Jaramillo, C
Originally a Phillies' second-round pick out of Oklahoma State, the Pirates got him for Ronny Paulino. He's in line to make his big league debut as Ryan Doumit's backup.
Evan Meek, RHP
A Rule 5 pick a year ago, the Pirates liked his arm so much they traded to keep him. He struggled with command in 2008 but showed up to camp a new man and has been unhittable, putting him in the bullpen mix.
Donnie Veal, LHP
Rule 5 picks generally are long shots, but this one might pay off. The fact that he's a lefty, throws in the mid-90s and has been very effective -- save one outing -- this spring could mean he lands a bullpen job.
Jeff Sues, RHP
The 2005 fifth-rounder suffered through injuries in the earlier part of his career, needing shoulder surgery. He didn't even pitch competitively until 2007 and it wasn't until last year, when the Pirates made him a reliever, that he took off. With a power fastball and curve, he's got the stuff to compete in the back end of a bullpen. That could happen in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later.
Brian Friday, SS
After a subpar showing in Hawaii Winter Baseball during the offseason, some may have written off the 2007 third-round pick. But it would be premature to dismiss the Rice product. He's solid defensively, gets on base and is the kind of grinder with leadership ability that winners need. He missed time with a back injury last year, but he's healthy now and he's the type who just gets the job done.
Jordy Mercer, SS
The Pirates evidently like taking college shortstops in the third round, doing it for the second year in a row with Mercer out of Oklahoma State. His debut wasn't all that special (.250 in 56 games), but he's got the chance to be a good all-around shortstop with some pop offensively.
2008: Pedro Alvarez, 3B:
It's time to just go out and play. Alvarez has gotten himself into excellent shape and is ready to make a splash in his pro debut, most likely with Class A Advanced Lynchburg in the Carolina League.
2007: Daniel Moskos, LHP:
His first full season as a pro -- and as a starter -- was a bit uneven. He's committed himself to righting the ship this year and whether he's a starter or reliever, he could begin moving quickly.
2006: Brad Lincoln, RHP:
It's year two after Tommy John surgery and it will be intriguing to watch if everything starts to click for Lincoln to make people remember why he was the fourth overall pick in this Draft.
2008 Draft Recap
The Pirates took a chance when they selected injured pitcher Tanner Scheppers in the second round, but they were unable to sign him. They'll get a pick at the end of the supplemental first round this June as a result. ... SS Chase D'Arnaud (4) is an excellent defender who hit .286 and stole 14 of 16 bases for State College in the New York-Penn League. ... INF Jarek Cunningham (18) hit .318 over 43 games for the Gulf Coast League Pirates, with a .385 on-base percentage and .507 slugging percentage. He was among the league leaders in a host of offensive categories, including batting average, slugging and OPS.
Hitter of the Year -- 3B Pedro Alvarez
Come on, like there'd be someone else to pick here? Alvarez will mend a lot of fences by raking from day one and competing for the organization's Triple Crown.
Pitcher of the Year -- RHP Brad Lincoln
A former first-rounder with stuff to spare, another year removed from Tommy John surgery. There's a lot to like here and Lincoln will move close to being big league-ready while pitching at more than one level.
There were high expectations for Jarek Cunningham, the club's 18th-round pick last year. After a stirring GCL debut, folks were excited to see what he could do in his first full season. Alas, they'll have to wait as he tore the ACL in his left knee during a conditional drill in camp in Florida. He's going to miss the entire season. ... There can't be an entire preview without mentioning the guy who led the organization in hitting last year. Jim Negrych batted .359, good for fifth among all full-season players in the Minors. The Pitt product hit .370 for Lynchburg and .310 after a promotion to Double-A Altoona.
"We've made significant strides as far as adding talent to the system. We're in a better position to realistically build something. We've got a long way to go, but a good foundation is being built as far as talent and mentality. We're encouraged by it and we're ready to add to it through the Draft and more international signings."
--Pirates farm director Kyle Stark
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.