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Spring Snapshot: Tired of past, Pirates hope bright future is here

Big League Stew

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Every day in spring training until we're finished with the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team that we visit in Florida and Arizona. Let's look at the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have a little streak going.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

2009 RECORD 62-99: 6th in NL Central

BIG ACQUISITIONS: Right-hander Octavio Dotel(notes) has some closer experience and some of the best-looking socks in the majors ... Infielder Akinori Iwamura(notes) helped the Rays reach the World Series in 2008 and is willing to get a Mohawk to effect that end for the Pirates.

BIG DEPARTURE: General manager Neal Huntington did a lot of dealing in the second half of ‘09: Mainstays Jack Wilson(notes), Freddy Sanchez(notes), Nyjer Morgan(notes) were gone well before the last out of the season ... Closer Matt Capps(notes) followed in free agency, to Washington.

FIVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PIRATES:

1. Is this the year the Bucs break .500?

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Not once in the past 17 seasons did the Pirates finish above .500 and they probably won't do it this season, either. But the end (of the streak) might be near, considering the young talent being assembled. And, heck, just by luck you'd think that they'd get their heads above water sooner or later. That they don't reside in the AL East helps.

2. Will Andrew McCutchen(notes) improve? McCutchen says he will have to adjust to the pitching adjustments that always seem to happen. But his reasonable strikeout/walk ratio and effective stolen-base percentage indicate, at age 22, he's going to be one of the game's great platers. His defense in center wasn't great — just OK — so that could improve with experience and confidence.

3. When does Pedro Alvarez(notes) arrive? He has only 465 at-bats in the minors, but the second overall pick of the 2008 draft finished with 27 homers and a .914 OPS. He excelled, especially at Double-A where his .333 batting average and 1.009 OPS had the Pirates salivating over what could be someday. If he continues those trends in the minors this season, he'll be in Pittsburgh by midseason.

4. Is Garrett Jones(notes) for real? Jones was looking like a so-called career "4-A" player — someone who's good enough to be great at Triple-A but not good enough to play regularly in the majors. But, after 4 1/2 years in AAA, he got a chance with the Bucs, got hot and never cooled off. His numbers — .938 OPS — probably will correct themselves somewhat.

5. Can Brad Lincoln(notes) make the opening-day roster? Huntington has said it's possible for the fourth overall pick from 2006 to do just that. And it's not like John Candelaria, Bert Blyleven and Don Robinson are blocking him from doing so. He probably needs a little more seasoning in Triple-A and rookie pitchers can take years of trial and error at the major league level. Lincoln's possibilities aren't as grand as Alvarez's.

BLS editor Kevin Kaduk has taken over the tour of spring training camps in Florida. To ride shotgun, follow him on Twitter @bigleaguestew.

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