While it might not have shown at the big-league level, save for the arrival of Andrew McCutchen and the surprise of Garrett Jones, 2009 was another solid season for the Pirates in terms of scouting and player development.
For the second straight year, the Pirates poured resources into the Draft and, by most accounts, were very successful in adding a lot of talent to the system that way. They were very aggressive and handed out above-slot bonuses to get talented players -- particularly high-ceiling high school arms, the kind of player not found in this system previously -- into the organization.
While the trades in Pittsburgh caused much dismay among Major League fans, it netted a vast amount of talent, adding much-needed depth to the system.
Now there's legitimate talent at just about every level of the system, starting with one of the bigger impact bats in the Minors in Pedro Alvarez. But it's far from a one-man show. Once upon a time, it was a challenge to find 10 legitimate prospects in this system to highlight in the annual "10 to watch" feature. Now there are Minor Leaguers who have promising futures being left off the list. Obviously, the greatest sign of change will be in these players reaching Pittsburgh and helping to turn things around. But in an organization that hasn't had a whole lot to be optimistic about, that's certainly progress.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B
It's a question of when, not if, the 2008 first-rounder makes it to Pittsburgh in 2010. Give him a couple of months to get going in Triple-A, then his left-handed bat should fit very nicely in PNC Park. The Pirates will have to make room, but rest assured they will when the time is right, both developmentally and financially. When he arrives, expect him to contribute with his power immediately.
Brad Lincoln, RHP
Lincoln made it to Triple-A in his first full year following Tommy John surgery and now he's knocking on the door. Look for him to get some more development time in Triple-A -- he was up and down there last year -- and perhaps be the first starter called up when there's a need in the Pirates' rotation.
Daniel McCutchen, RHP
McCutchen's strong performance this spring earned him the No. 5 spot in the Pirates' rotation. McCutchen pitched four games in relief for Pittsburgh last season.
John Raynor, OF
As a Rule 5 pick, he's either coming now or being sent back to the Marlins, unless the two teams work out a deal. The signing of Ryan Church makes it even more of an uphill battle, but Raynor does have more speed to bring to the table. It's feasible to think another team may take a shot with him if the Pirates don't have room.
Jose Tabata, OF
When the Pirates got the young outfielder in the Xavier Nady deal back in 2008, this is what they were hoping for. Tabata has done nothing but hit since being a part of the organization and he can play some outfield as well. He'll be ready to step in if, say, Jones needs to go play first and there's an opening in right.
Ramon Cabrera, C
He's short and squat (5-foot-7, 200 pounds), but he came to the U.S. last summer and hit well in the Gulf Coast League. The Venezuelan looks like he can hit for average with some pop and he knows how to get on base, especially for a young player. He's got a good arm behind the plate and now just needs experience.
Josh Harrison, 2B
The Pirates got Harrison as part of the Tom Gorzelanny/John Grabow deal with the Cubs. His tools won't wow you, but all he's done is hit with a .309/.359/.431 line since being drafted in 2008. He's played second, third and the outfield and might profile best as a utility guy who can swing the bat well.
Aaron Pribanic, RHP
The Mariners' third-round pick in 2008, Pribanic came over via the Jack Wilson trade. He had a solid first full season, including a 2.15 ERA in seven games for Class A West Virginia.
Hunter Strickland, RHP
Another newcomer via trade (Adam LaRoche), the 2007 draftee fared well overall in his first taste of full-season ball. In his first start with the Pirates, he combined on a no-hitter. He's got some good pitchability and as he gets better with command within the strike zone, he could take off.
First-round pick C Tony Sanchez may have seemed like a reach at No. 4 overall, but he signed quickly and got to play at three levels, finishing with a .309/.409/.539 line in 48 games. He threw out 33 percent of would-be basestealers as well. ... RHP Victor Black (supplemental first round) went straight to the NY-Penn League and posted a 3.45 ERA in 31 1/3 IP, holding hitters to a .213 batting average against and striking out 33. He was better as a starter than in relief. ... Second-rounder RHP Brooks Pounders got 23 2/3 IP under his belt in the Gulf Coast League, allowing 19 hits and 11 walks with 20 strikeouts. Hitters hit .218 against him and he had a 3.04 ERA. ... After a slow start to his pro debut OF Evan Chambers (3rd round) came on strong with a .303/.442/.438 August. ... 2B/SS Brock Holt (9th round) was a NY-Penn League All-Star and hit .299/.361/.449 while going a perfect 9-for-9 in stolen base attempts for State College. ... The Pirates signed several high-school arms to above-slot deals, most notably Zack Dodson (4th rd), Zack Von Rosenberg (6th), Trent Stevenson (7th) and Colton Cain (8th).
Hitter of the Year -- Starling Marte, OF
With the big names likely spending time in the bigs, let's go out on a limb and go with the 21-year-old Dominican. He made a splash in his U.S. debut over 54 games with West Virginia last year. Look for the toolsy outfielder to make the jump to Bradenton and start putting it all together in 2010.
Pitcher of the Year -- Zack Von Rosenberg
While it's hard not to go with 2009 winner Rudy Owens again, it's time to take a chance with one of the high school talents who were signed to above-slot deals from last year's Draft. Von Rosenberg may not have the highest ceiling, but he's advanced enough to excel right off the bat in full-season ball.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.