Pirates fans have been on Gerrit Cole watch since he was selected No. 1 overall in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
The club's big league starters have been dropping like flies this season. Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Jeanmar Gomez and now Wandy Rodriguez have all been hampered by injuries of varying degrees, cuing an even more watchful eye.
"Getting Cole and [outfielder] Josh Bell in the same Draft, we feel pretty good about that one," general manager Neal Huntington said Friday. "But we feel pretty good about this one as well."
Manager Clint Hurdle just thinks it's time. Cole, a right-hander out of UCLA, is far enough along in his development to warrant a Major League opportunity. However, the organization will have a difficult decision to make when any of those pitchers are healthy.
"We considered all the internal options and felt his development is where we hoped it would be," Hurdle said Saturday. "This opportunity presented itself. It wasn't forced, it wasn't manufactured. It's just the right time."
But Cole isn't the only player the Pirates have to look forward to. Since Huntington arrived in Pittsburgh in 2007, the organization has taken an upward turn. Baseball America ranked the Bucs' farm system 26th best in baseball in '08, the year after Huntington arrived. Now, it is ranked seventh.
Hurdle says the organization is deeper than its been in recent memory, and Triple-A Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor agrees.
Treanor led the Indians to a league-high 89 wins in 2012, and he has guided the Pirates' affiliate to a 43-21 mark so far this season, also an International League best as of Saturday.
Treanor said Hurdle pays close attention to the Minor League teams, which fosters a positive culture throughout the organization.
"It's the best relationship I've had," Treanor said last month. "It's a genuine interest in how guys are doing here."
But most of the organization's top prospects aren't waiting patiently in Indianapolis for a callup from Hurdle. They're spread all throughout the system.
Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh's No. 2 prospect and the second overall pick in the 2010 Draft, has a 3.10 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP in 12 starts for Double-A Altoona this year, and he still has some work to do before reaching the big leagues.
The Pirates' top three position players in the system are all still in Class A, with Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco in Bradenton and Bell in West Virginia. Two of the club's top 20 prospects, Justin Wilson and Bryan Morris, are currently in the Bucs' bullpen, one of baseball's best.
Wilson has been stellar in relief this season for Pittsburgh, allowing eight runs in 36 1/3 innings, good for a 1.98 ERA. He's 5-1 with a 0.94 WHIP and a 35/14 strikeout to walk ratio.
Tyler Glasnow, the Pirates' No. 19 prospect and fifth-round pick in 2011, has been dominating Class A hitters for West Virginia. He has 80 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings, while limiting opponents to a .131 average. Nick Kingham, a fourth-rounder in '10, is 6-3 with a 3.09 ERA with 71 strikeouts to just 14 walks in 67 innings for Bradenton.
"The organization is wise to stockpile some arms," Treanor said. "We have some big arms here in Indy, and a couple more on the way. You can never have enough pitching."
The Bucs organization also has a few hidden gems excelling in the Minors so far this season. Andrew Lambo hit .291 with 14 homers and 46 RBIs for Altoona before being called up to Indianapolis last week. He had been playing mostly at the Double-A level since 2008.
Stetson Allie has also turned some heads in 2013. Drafted as a pitcher in the second round of the '10 Draft, Allie could never find his command at the lower Minor League levels, so he made the switch the infield. The move paid off immediately as he hit 16 home runs, good for second in the South Atlantic League. Allie has driven in a league-high 55 runs and scored 38 while batting .322 for West Virginia.
Pirates shortstop/second baseman Jordy Mercer, who started the year in Triple-A, said when he was drafted in 2008, the organization's lack of depth was no secret. But now he says there's more depth throughout, which only helps the big league club.
"That was one of the main things, to strengthen the system. That way, you could call guys up and not miss a beat," Mercer said. "And I think that's helped us out a long way. That's a big help for this organization."
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less