By John Perrotto
The Pirates' stagger to the finish line is almost too painful to watch.
The Buccos have lost six games in a row and 22 of their last 32. The freefall has dropped them to just two games over .500 at 72-70, meaning the possibility of a 20th consecutive losing -- which seemed unthinkable a few weeks ago -- is strong.
While the Pirates are just 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the second National League wild card, they are now in a five-team race. The Los Angeles Dodgers are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Pirates and Milwaukee and Philadelphia, both surging, are just 1/2 game behind.
So with today being an off day and as a public service to all suffering Pirates' fans, let's think of something happier -- the farm system. The Pirates have a number of talented prospects in their system and here's a look at how we rank the top 10:
1. Gerrit Cole, RHP -- The first overall draft pick in the 2011 draft from UCLA made three stops in his first professional season. The 22-year-old was 5-1 with a 2.55 ERA in 13 starts with high Class A Bradenton, 3-6 with a 2.90 ERA in 12 starts for Class AA Altoona and 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA in one start with Class AAA Indianapolis. In all, Cole was 9-7 with a 2.80 ERA in 26 starts, allowing 113 hits in 132 innings with 136 strikeouts and 45 walks.
2. Jameson Taillon, RHP -- The second overall draft pick in 2010 from The Woodlands (Texas) High School began the season with Bradenton and was 6-8 with a 3.82 ERA in 23 starts. The 20-year-old then went 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA in three starts with Altoona. Overall, he was 9-8 with a 3.55 ERA in 26 starts, allowing 120 hits in 142 innings with 116 strikeouts and 38 walks.
3. Starling Marte, OF -- An international free agent from the Dominican Republic, Marte batted .286 with 12 home runs, 62 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 33 attempts in 99 games for Indianapolis along with 13 doubles, 12 triples, a .347 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage. Now with the Pirates, the 23-year-old is hitting .234 with four homers, 11 RBIs and four steals in 27 games.
4. Alen Hanson, SS -- An international free agent from the Dominican Republic, Hanson batted 309 with 16 home runs, 62 RBIs and 35 stolen bases in 54 attempts in 124 games for low Class A West Virginia. The 21-year-old also had 33 doubles, 13 triples, a .381 on-base percentage and a .528 slugging percentage.
5. Luis Heredia, RHP -- An international free agent from Mexico, Heredia was 4-2 with a 2.71 ERA in 14 starts for short season Class A State College. The 18-year-old allowed 53 hits in 66 1/3 innings with 40 strikeouts and 20 walks.
6. Josh Bell, OF -- The first pick of the second round of the 2011 draft from Dallas Jesuit High School made his professional debut with West Virginia and hit .274 with one home run, 11 RBIs and one stolen base in one attempt in 15 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury on April 24. The 19-year-old also had five doubles, a .288 on-base percentage and a .403 slugging percentage.
7. Gregory Polanco, OF -- An international free agent from the Dominican Republic, Polanco, who turns 21 on Friday, hit .325 with 16 home runs, 85 RBIs and 40 stolen bases in 55 attempts in 116 games for West Virginia. He also had 26 doubles, six triples, a .388 on-base percentage and a .522 slugging percentage.