That was Then...
After a fairly quiet off-season that saw the Pirates add veterans like Erik Bedard, Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes, the Pirates were the feel-good story of baseball.
Seemingly out of the blue, the young Bucs got off to a great start that saw them at their apex in 2012 sit at 16 games over .500. In the final 52 games of the season, the wheels fell off, and the Pirates went 16-36 to finish the year at 79-83.
Outfielder Andrew McCutchen solidified himself as one of the best all-around players in the game, hitting .327 with 31 home runs and 20 stolen bases. The Pirates also let youngsters like Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Starling Marte and Alex Presley play through some struggles to give them some experience.
The Pirates, who released Bedard during the season, added Wandy Rodriguez near the trade deadline to give them a proven winner that can pitch at the top of their rotation alongside A.J. Burnett.
The Pirates got another strong season from closer Joel Hanrahan who went 5-2 with 36 saves.
...This is Now
Andrew McCutchen looks to solidify his superstar status and lead the Pirates to their first winning season in 20 years.
In their quest to figure out and avoid a similar type of Jekyll and Hyde season, the Pirates were fairly busy in the off-season, sending Hanrahan to the Boston Red Sox in a deal that sent prospects back. They also signed Canadian catcher Russell Martin to improve their defence behind the plate and re-upped Jason Grilli to serve as their closer.
Offensively, the Pirates, who were tied for 23rd in the majors in runs scored last season, are still a work in progress with Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker being their most consistent players. While Garrett Jones' 27 home runs and Pedro Alvarez' 30 home runs provide a lot of additional power to the lineup, they are both free swingers who might not be able to maintain high batting averages.
It will be interesting to see if another of the team's young guns can step up after last year's exposure.
The starting pitching staff has some steady but unspectacular players like A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald. The team is waiting for left-hander Francisco Liriano to recover from breaking his right arm at home in a freak accident. He could bolster the starting five in mid-May if all goes well.
The Pirates on paper appear to be the fourth best team in the division, but that's not meant as a slight. Like a lot of young teams, they showed in 2012 that they were prone to wild swings. The club has failed to finish over .500 in each of the last 20 seasons. 2013 could be the end of that woeful run.
Every year, we look for players 26-years-old or younger that could make an impact on their team in the upcoming season. The player might have already established himself with a regular role with the team, or he could make their mark later on in the season.
Past Picks: 2012 - Jose Tabata, 2011 - Neil Walker, 2010 - Pedro Alvarez, 2009 - Andrew McCutchen, 2008 - Tom Gorzelanny, 2007 - Ian Snell, 2006 - Zach Duke, 2005 - Mike Gonzalez, 2004 - Jason Bay, 2003 - Aramis Ramirez
The Pirates have some work to do if they want to finish .500 or better.
Power and speed threat Andrew McCuthen lands at 14th overall.
CF Andrew McCutchen is in a class of his own on this team. He borders on a first-round fantasy selection and his sensational 2012 season should assure that he isn't overlooked.
After that, the pickings get kind of slim. C Russell Martin is better than average at a position without great depth, 2B Neil Walker is okay, 3B Pedro Alvarez is intriguing enough because of his power and LF Starling Marte can run, but all of those players are mid-to-later round selections.
When it comes to pitching, LHP Wandy Rodriguez and RHP A.J. Burnett are good enough to get picked, though Burnett's track record is such that he could be dropped quickly too.
New closer Jason Grilli and RHP James McDonald, who faltered down the stretch last year, are other late-round options.