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11/25/09 11:00 AM ET

Pirates building talent base

Owens, Alvarez the organization's top players in Minors

The Pirates management in place has promised to do things differently, to come up with a plan and stick to it. Whether it ultimately works in giving Pirates fans a winner remains to be seen, but so far, the braintrust has stuck to its guns, even when it may have ignored public opinion.

Never was that more evident than in the flurry of trades the Pirates made during 2009, particularly the first one that sent popular outfielder Nate McLouth to the Braves for a trio of young players. The mass exodus continued as most of Pittsburgh's lineup was dealt for prospects and young players just breaking into the big leagues.

In addition to the trades that caused a stir at the big league level, the Pirates continued to be extremely aggressive in the Draft. In 2008, they spent close to $10 million on picks, Pedro Alvarez being the most noteworthy. This past year, Pittsburgh went "safer" with its first-round pick in taking Tony Sanchez, but continued to hand out above-slot bonuses to bring in high-end talent. The end result is a system a lot more talent-rich than in any time in recent memory.

NL East

AL East

NL Central

AL Central

NL West

AL West

"Ultimately, that's what it's about, the talent on the field," Pirates farm director Kyle Stark said. "We've now had two aggressive Drafts and two years of significant trading activity where we've been able to bring in a lot of players. Top to bottom, throughout the system, you're seeing prospects at every level and you're seeing some depth. We've increased the number of players we feel have the chance to be big league players.

"We're betting on people, so you're not going to be right all the time. But we've been able to increase the odds."

That progress shows up whenever someone puts together a top prospect list for the organization. In MLB.com's "10 to watch" list which will appear in January, there are only three players who remained on the list who were on it before the season began. While some were because of bad performance or injury and one really notable one -- Andrew McCutchen, who finished fourth for the NL Rookie of the Year -- graduated, some simply fell off the list because they had been replaced by other, more intriguing prospects. That can only be a good thing for the long-term health of this once-proud organization, even if it didn't necessarily show up in overwhelming success for the affiliates (the exception being the Carolina League-winning Lynchburg club).

"If you look at a top 10 prospect list today opposed to two years ago, there's no comparison," Stark said. "You could go 20 or 30 deep, compared to where we were two years ago and feel better about our depth.

"We've either been complimented or criticized for this depending on what camp you're in. We want to develop players who will win in Pittsburgh. Part of that is winning, but the biggest reason for winning is the talent on the field, not by stacking rosters. It will come down to players on the field and how they are developing."


MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Pedro Alvarez, 3B: We predicted that the 2008 first-rounder would compete for the organizational Triple Crown. We were two-thirds right as Alvarez topped the Pirates in home runs with 27 and RBIs with 95. His .288 average, by the way, was good for sixth among full-season players.

Brad Lincoln, RHP: The prediction was that with another year removed from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, Lincoln would move close to being big league ready. Pretty much on the money with that one as Lincoln got promoted to Triple-A in early July. He was a little up and down there, but finished strong before leaving to win two games for Team USA during its gold medal run in the IBAF World Cup.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Pedro Alvarez, 3B: The No. 2 overall pick from the 2008 First-Year Player Draft made his pro debut and rose to Double-A all in the same season. Things didn't start out all that well, with an April that saw him hit just .219/.341/.397. But he improved the following two months, particularly in the slugging department, to earn a promotion to Double-A. That suited him just fine as he was one of the most productive hitters in the Minors following the bump. Alvarez hit .333 with 13 homers and 40 RBIs in 60 games with Altoona, slugging .590 with a .419 OBP to go along with it. His strikeout rate went down and his walk rate went up once he reached Double-A, and he finished the year with a combined .934 OPS, signs that he's probably not too far away from contributing in Pittsburgh.

Rudy Owens, LHP: Did anyone see this coming? Owens was among the last of a now-extinct breed: a draft-and-follow. The Pirates took him in 2006 and signed him in '07. He didn't make his debut until '08 and it was ho-hum, at best. Then came this year, when the lefty led the organization in ERA (2.10) and strikeouts (113 vs. just 17 BB in 124 IP). He went 10-1 with a 1.70 ERA in 19 South Atlantic League starts, enough to be named that league's Most Outstanding Pitcher, then moved up to pitch well for Lynchburg during their run to a Carolina League title.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.