The future success of every Major League team lies largely in its Minor League pipeline. With that in mind, MLB.com is looking at each team's farm system, from the Top 20 Prospects to under-the-radar types.
The Pirates are well-represented on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, and everything starts with their right-handed pitching tandem.
Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 prospect in the organization, could make his Major League debut at some point in 2013. The hard-throwing 22-year-old, who was the first overall selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, opened last season at Class A Bradenton but finished the year by making a start at Triple-A Indianapolis. Overall, he compiled a 9-7 record and 2.80 ERA in 26 starts between those two levels and Double-A Altoona. He also tallied more than a strikeout per inning.
Jameson Taillon, the second overall pick in the 2010 Draft and the No. 2 prospect in the Pirates' system, went 9-8 with a 3.55 ERA in 26 starts between Bradenton and Altoona.
"They continue to work toward making a definite impact in Pittsburgh. [The rankings] confirm how we feel about them," said Kyle Stark, an assistant general manager for the Pirates.
Following the pitching duo in the Pirates' prospect rankings are the organization's top young hitters in shortstop Alen Hanson and outfielder Gregory Polanco. Hanson, who turned 20 after the 2012 campaign, batted .309 with 33 doubles, 13 triples, 16 homers, 62 RBIs and 35 stolen bases for Class A West Virginia. He reached base at a .381 clip and logged a .528 slugging percentage.
Polanco, a 21-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic, is an imposing force, at 6-foot-4. He batted .325 with a .388 on-base percentage, .522 slugging percentage, 16 homers, 85 RBIs and 40 stolen bases in 116 games for West Virginia last season.
"We've always liked them, and they've begun to perform," Stark said of Hanson and Polanco. "The rankings reflect the hard work both have put into their developments and give them more motivation to keep improving."
Top 20 prospects
Cole is expected to begin the 2013 season at Triple-A, though he could certainly contribute to the Pirates at some point.
A couple of other prospects could be in the mix for the starting rotation as well. The Pirates acquired southpaw Andy Oliver from the Tigers in December. The former second-round Draft pick is 0-5 with a 7.11 ERA in seven career big league starts. The No. 12 prospect in Pittsburgh's system, Oliver went 5-9 with a 4.88 ERA for Triple-A Toledo last season.
Kyle McPherson, a 14th round Draft choice in 2007 and the Pirates' No. 7 prospect, made 10 appearances (three starts) for Pittsburgh in 2012, as he posted a 2.73 ERA in 26 1/3 innings. The 25-year-old also had a 3-6 record and 3.22 ERA in 12 starts between Altoona and Indianapolis last year.
Bryan Morris, the organization's No. 14 prospect, also enjoyed his first taste of the big leagues last year. The right-hander tossed five innings of relief for the Pirates following a September call-up and yielded just one earned run in five frames. In 46 appearances for Indianapolis, he posted a 2.67 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 81 innings.
Under the Radar
Matt Curry: A first baseman and the Pirates' 16th-round Draft selection in 2010, Curry batted .285 with 34 doubles, 11 homers and 76 RBIs in 111 games with Altoona last season. He has been a steady producer during his ascent through Pittsburgh's system, with a .287 average and .377 on-base percentage in three Minor League seasons.
Phil Irwin: The right-hander, who turns 26 on Feb. 25, could help the Pirates at some point in 2013. He posted a 3-0 record and 2.57 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 21 innings in four starts for Indianapolis last season after going 4-7 with a 2.93 ERA at Altoona. The seasoned Minor Leaguer was originally a 21st-round Draft choice by the Pirates in 2009.
Hitter of the Year
Alen Hanson: The native of the Dominican Republic pieced together an impressive stat line as a 19-year-old in Class A last year. What he does as an encore in 2013 could determine how quickly he progresses through the Pirates' system.
Pitcher of the Year
Jameson Taillon: The second overall pick in the 2010 Draft, Taillon pitched his best after a promotion to Altoona last year. There, he earned a victory in all three of his starts while posting a 1.59 ERA and striking out 18 in 17 innings. The 21-year-old, who stands 6-foot-6, could enter the big league scene sooner rather than later.