The Pittsburgh Pirates had little reason to smile last season, holding the worst record in Major League Baseball by a full four games. At 57 wins with 105 losses, the Pirates won just 17 games on the road en route to their 18th consecutive losing season. That’s right, 18 years in a row they have had a losing season, which also happens to be the longest streak in professional sports today.

The worst, however, may have already passed as the Pirates have begun to pay attention to the growing talent in their farm system while slowly calling up the next wave of future Pirates and possible superstars.

Center fielder Andrew McCutchen leads the pack of youthful Pirates. At just 24, McCutchen has already established himself as the face of the Pirates. A former first-round pick, McCutchen splashed onto the Major League scene following the trade of Nate McClouth to the Atlanta Braves.

The move opened up a spot for McCutchen who has never looked back. On Aug. 1, 2009, McCutchen homered three times and drove in six runs against the Washington Nationals.

Although he was considered an 2010 All-Star snub, McCutchen has made enough of an impact to be considered one of the best young center fielders in the league.

If McCutchen is Batman, then Pedro Alvarez may be Robin. The second overall pick in the 2008 draft was actually selected in the 14th round of the 2005 draft by the Boston Red Sox.

Alvarez, however, didn’t sign and went to play college ball at Vanderbilt, where he set a school record for home runs in a season and earned a number of awards, including National Freshman of the Year according to Baseball America and was selected to the USA National Team. Alvarez also lead Vanderbilt to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) title in 2007 where he was named tournament MVP.

Alvarez was called up in June of 2010 and after struggling for part of the season, Alvarez finished the season strong, including being named National League Rookie of the Month for September. Alvarez looks to the be the corner stone for the Pirates for many years.

The Pirates continued the youth movement with former first-round pick and starting second basemen, Neil Walker and outfielder Jose Tabata, who was brought over from the New York Yankees in the Xavier Nady trade back in 2008.

Still a few years away, the 2009 fourth overall pick, Tony Sanchez might be second most highly regarded catcher in the minors after New York Yankees’ Jesus Montero.

The Pirates pitching staff may be one of the youngest in the league, with Kevin Correia being the eldest at just 30-years-old. Ross Ohlendorf (brought over in the 2008 trade for Xavier Nady from the Yankees), Paul Maholm (first-round pick), and Brad Lincoln, the fourth overall pick of the 2006 draft lead a youthful Pirates pitching staff.

The Pirates pitching staff could still be joined by the 2010 second overall pick, Jameson Taillon, who stands at 6’6″ and throws a fastball that touches the upper 90s as well as Rudy Owens, the left-handed hurler who was the Pirates Minor League Pitcher of the Year honoree. Last season, Owens finished 12-6 with a 2.46 ERA while playing for Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League.

Finally, relief pitcher Evan Meek, the only Pirate in the 2010 All-Star Game, might be one of the most underrated relievers in the league today. Meek finished the 2010 season with a 2.14 ERA in 70 total appearances.

At the All-Star break, Meek’s ERA was just 0.98, the third lowest in the league after Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and Tigers closer Jose Valverde.

In the end, the Pirates may still suffer a 19th and possibly a 20th straight losing season before things start to turn for the better, but in the meantime, the Pirates are on the right track. They have the talent and farm system in place, the only question will be is, do they have the time to develop that farm system before McCutchen and Alvarez come up as trade bait or free agency.

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