Righty generating excitement on stacked Indianapolis squad while Pittsburgh waits
By Tom Singer
In Pittsburgh, where memories keep fading of the last good year, it's always "Wait till next year." That explains the interest in the coming generation of Pirates, due to a combination of perceived holes in the current team and the organization's avowed focus on building from within.
Fans have a reflexive faith that what is on the way is better than what is already here, and nothing about the Bucs' farm system in 2012 ruined that expectation. Each of the club's high-profile prospects made notable strides -- earning the organization unanimous Top 10 rankings among the Majors' 30 clubs -- and the cream carried Triple-A Indianapolis to an 89-55 record.
The spotlight hasn't dimmed. A new season of Minor League Baseball is under way, and you can keep track of the Pirates' top prospects throughout the season on MLBPipeline.com and Prospect Watch. Get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of the Bucs' Minor League teams on MLBPipeline.com/pirates.
where to watch
Where the Pirates' Top 20 prospects are starting the season:
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
It is safe to say that there will be more interest in Gerrit Cole's starts for Indianapolis than in those of anyone currently in a Pirates uniform, with the possible exception of adopted favorite son A.J. Burnett.
Right-handers Cole and Jameson Taillon remain step in step as the organization's top two prospects. Taillon, more accurately, remains a step behind, starting his first Double-A season. Expectations are that by 2015, they will be Nos. 1 and 2 atop Pittsburgh's rotation.
The plan also is for their backing to include shortstop Alen Hanson, outfielder Gregory Polanco and others currently scattered throughout the system, on their way to converging for glory in PNC Park.
Indianapolis boasts a ridiculously strong cast, a blend of onrushing prospects and Major League vets who had strong springs in the Pirates' big league camp but were victims of numbers. Players who dominate Triple-A but have a hard time crossing into the Majors are routinely tagged Quadruple-A players -- this is a Quadruple-A team. In fact, relatively few of them can truly be called "prospects," as opposed to seasoned players in waiting, such as outfielders Alex Presley and Felix Pie.
Many will be on the shuttle to Pittsburgh. Yes, including Cole, at some point. Fellow right-handers Phil Irwin and Kyle McPherson could also pop into the rotation, Vic Black and Brooks Brown could aid the bullpen, and catcher Tony Sanchez -- 2009's No. 1 Draft pick -- could be on the last leg of his trip to the Majors.
The top attraction in Altoona, besides Taillon, is Carlos Paulino. He wowed the staff with his arm enough to draw strong consideration as a No. 3 catcher had it chosen to carry as many. Infielder Alex Dickerson has done nothing but hit since being the No. 3 pick in the 2011 Draft. Stolmy Pimentel, the 23-year-old Dominican right-hander acquired from Boston as part of the Joel Hanrahan trade, is also on the fast track.
The Florida State League Class A Bradenton Marauders feature the position version of the Cole-Taillon tandem: Hanson and Polanco, Nos. 3 and 4 on MLB.com's list of top Pirates prospects.
West Virginia showcases a pair of very interesting projects: Outfielder Josh Bell, the No. 2 pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, is restarting his pro career after losing most of '12 to an early-season knee injury; and Stetson Allie, the former high-end pitching prospect who switched to the other side of the ball last season, is already off to a hot start as a first baseman.
Barrett Barnes, the sandwich pick (No. 45 overall) who was the highest signee out of the 2012 Draft by the Pirates, who were not able to come to terms with No. 1 Mark Appel, was having a strong pro debut (.288 in 38 games with State College, the New York-Penn League short-season affiliate that will be replaced this year by Jamestown) until suffering a left ankle stress fracture from which he is still recovering. He'll start over again with the Gulf Coast League Pirates
Debuts and draftees
Right-hander Hayden Hurst (No. 17) and infielder Jordan Steranka (No. 21) are expected to make their pro debuts with the Gulf Coast League Pirates.
The Bucs are always one of the more active organizations in Latin America, and numerous 2012 signees will be getting their first tastes of pro ball. Already assigned to the Dominican Summer League club have been outfielder Edgar Figueroa and infielder Enyel Vallejo.
New kids on the block
The Pirates paid a big price for left-hander Andrew Oliver, dealing switch-hitting catcher Ramon Cabrera for the Tigers' second-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Oliver zoomed to the Majors, debuting with Detroit a year after being drafted, and the Bucs plan to harness his control and help him realize his potential. He opened the season in Indianapolis' rotation.
Teams on TV
The Indianapolis Indians and Altoona Curve are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2013 MiLB.TV package will include more than 3,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
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.