Every day in spring training until we finish the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Next up is McKechnie Field, where the Buccos hope to turn baseball's most difficult corner.
2010 RECORD: 57-105, 6th in NL Central
BIGGEST ACQUISITION: Starting pitcher Kevin Correia(notes). He'd be an afterthought addition in almost every other camp, but he's a headliner with the Pirates. With a 2010 ERA of 5.40, it's safe to say that the hype over his arrival isn't getting out of hand.
FIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT THE PITTSBURGH PIRATES
1. Hey, where'd the optimism go? If you remember this time last year, I was part of a small group who could squint and see that maybe the Pirates were getting close to ending their infamous streak of consecutive losing seasons. At the very least, we figured, they wouldn't finish in last place. Pittsburgh rewarded our faith by snapping the limbs we were standing on and sending us crashing to the ground with the league's worst record. Coming into this season, we're all back to predicting more of the usual same for the Pirates because not only is it much safer, it's completely warranted. The Pirates didn't add any pieces that matter in the offseason (sorry, Matt Diaz(notes) and Lyle Overbay(notes)), their rotation is again a hodge-podge of mediocrity and the young core is still a few years away from really bearing fruit in the win-loss column. Could they improve to 65-67 wins this season? Perhaps, but that's the maximum amount of risk I'm willing to take with my prediction. That'll be 19 straight losing seasons, if you're keeping score at home.
2. Oh come on, is it really all that bad? No, not when you have the pleasure of watching Andrew McCutchen(notes) and Pedro Alvarez(notes) work toward being superstars and the types of players that can turn baseball around in Pittsburgh. One of the benefits of always picking at the top of the draft is that you're eventually going to pick right — even if you're playing slotting games — and the reward is the fanbase getting to see young talent come into its own. And as Jeff Passan laid out earlier this year, it's not hard to see how the Pirates can turn that drafted talent into a bona fide attempt to end the losing streak before it turns old enough to drink.
3. Is McCutchen really the best center fielder in baseball right now? MLB Network thinks so, rating the heir to Troy Polamalu's Pittsburgh hair throne in Pittsburgh as the best in center heading into the 2011 season. Now, that rank puts him ahead of Matt Kemp(notes) and assumes that Josh Hamilton(notes) and Carlos Gonzalez(notes) will be corner outfielders going forward, but it's still a solid pick. As a five-tool player, McCutchen can only build on his first full season in the majors — 16 homers, 56 RBIs, an .814 OPS and 33 stolen bases, all at the age of 23.
4. What date should Pirates fans most look forward to? Try June 6, when the Buccos will have the top pick in the amateur draft for the first time since drafting Bryan Bullington(notes) No. 1 in 2002. Pirates management is already promising that money and signability won't be an issue when it comes to selecting the best overall player and right now that player looks like Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon.
5. So what should the Pirates be aiming for this season? Not finishing in last place would be nice, though if we're being honest, no one prints up T-shirts for finishing fifth in the NL Central — not even in Pittsburgh. Under new manager Clint Hurdle, the focus has to stay on the future and developing guys like McCutchen, Alvarez, Jose Tabata(notes) and Brad Lincoln(notes). The organization has placed a premium on draft spending the past few seasons and if fans are patient, the payoff will be a nice one.