By John Perrotto
PITTSBURGH—The Pirates have been selling the future for nearly two decades now as their string of consecutive losing seasons stands at 18.
General manager Neal Huntington, though, was preaching something different Friday as the Pirates held a hot stove luncheon to kick off PirateFest. He wanted to talk about the present, despite the club’s 57-105 record last season, while also painting a bright picture for the future. It was the best of both worlds approach.
“This is the fourth time I go into a season as the general manager and I’ve never been more excited about a season,” Huntington said. “We’ve taken steps forward. It’s not always been reflected in our record but we feel strong about the plan we’ve put into place and the execution of the plan.
“We’ve talked a ton about our farm system, about building from within, about building through scouting and the farm system. We’ve had a number of players graduate to the major leagues. Now we can begin talking about the major-league team.”
On the surface, it seems there is little reason for optimism after last year’s disaster in which the Pirates had their worst record in 58 years. Yet Huntington insists things will be better this season and for the future by dropping this eyebrow-raising line: “I’ll take our group of 25 or under players against most any in baseball.”
Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein ranks the top 25 or under players in each organization and this is how he rates the Pirates’ top 10 going into the 2011 season:
1-Pedro Alvarez, 3B
2-Andrew McCutchen, CF
3-Jameson Taillon, RHP
4-Stetson Allie, RHP
5-Luis Heredia, RHP
6-Tony Sanchez, C
7-Neil Walker, 2B
8-Jose Tabata, LF
9-Rudy Owens, LHP
10-Brad Lincoln, RHP
Alvarez, McCutchen, Walker and Tabata will make up half of the starting lineup while Owens and Lincoln figure to be in the Class AAA Indianapolis rotation and Sanchez is likely to open the year Class AA Altoona. Taillon, Allie and Heredia, all teenagers, will make their professional debuts this year.
The lack of a pitcher on that list that is ready to begin the season in the major-league rotation seems to doom the Pirates to another losing season. Yet Huntington insists the Pirates aren’t writing this year off.
“I not going to talk about wins but I do know that we’ll work hard every day and be prepared as well as we possibly can to be able to play that day,” Huntington said. “It’s a process and I believe if we do those things on a daily basis that we’ll look up at the end of the season and be pleased with our record.”