If you have just started following the Pittsburgh Pirates, you are following a team that is coming off of a season that saw them advance to game five of the NLDS and give the St. Louis Cardinals all that they could handle in that Series. They won 94 games last year and proved that they could hang with the big boys. I’m sure the Pirates are grateful for your support and you picked a great time to choose them as your team to follow.
For those of you that are like myself and have been lifelong Pirates fans, you know that from 1992 until last season, Spring training and the season that followed have been anything but something to get excited about.
Who can forget Derek Bell’s declaration that he was going into “Operation Shutdown” if he had to compete for a starting position in spring training. I mean, the guy was coming off a season in which he boasted a whopping .173 batting average.
The constant search over all of those years to find out who was going to be that years “Ace” and take the hill on opening day.
The annual search by the Bucs combing through the free agent wire to pick up players who were either at the end of their careers or had nothing left in the tank. (Insert Matt Morris, Pat Mears, or who ever you would like to use as a punchline)
For Pirate fans, there was no hope. No light at the end of the tunnel. It was one losing season after another until it all blurred together into a two decade long nightmare.
I am happy to say, those days are over. Going into the 2014 season, the Pirates have a core of talented young players that for the most part, are under team control for the foreseeable future. Depending on who you listen to, they have if not the top ranked, then one of the top ranked farm systems in all of baseball. When you look at the depth of their young pitchers not only the ones on the current roster, but several others currently in the minor league system, if there potential is reached, the Pirates rotation could be one of the best young staffs in baseball in the next several years to come.
I’m not saying that there are question marks in several key areas. I’m not going to go into them now because the areas of needed improvement have been touched on all off-season and throughout the Spring so far.
The thing that Bucco Fans have now that up until this year that has been missing is hope and you can’t underestimate what that can do for not only a team, but for a fan base as well. The fact is that if things play out the way they should, the Pirates will have their two top prospects joining the big club sometime in June. Remember when Gerrit Cole was called up last year? Well, the addition of Jameson Taillion and Gregory Polanco will have the city of Pittsburgh bursting with excitement.
Throw in a full year of Cole and Charlie Morton, a hopefully healthy Wandy Rodriguez who at the time of this writing is not only looking very solid, but looks to have some added velocity on his heater and how could you not be excited? Not there yet? Through in Pedro Alvarez who so far this spring has shown more discipline at the plate. Neil Walker, who while hitting a career high in home runs last year, can definitely not only improve against right-handed pitching this year but I believe will raise his batting average as a whole.
Am I taking a wholly optimistic outlook on things? You bet. However, I am doing so not only because I can see it happening but because the above mentioned players are a year older and more experienced. It will be a long season with a lot of ups and downs but the bottom line is very simple. After many years of frustration, disappointment and outright indifference, there is good reason for optimism. I’m all in. How about you?