After going two decades without making the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Pirates have cracked the postseason in each of the past two seasons. Maybe it’s not completely accurate to call them a team “on the rise,” but they have the pieces to become a perennial powerhouse in the National League for years to come.

It is no secret that pitching wins championships, and in a few years, the Bucs will have one of the most dominant rotations in the league.

Gerrit Cole is only 24 years old, and he is already building the resume of a proven big league ace. He has a 3.45 ERA and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings in his two major league seasons. The first overall pick in the 2011 draft, Cole possesses a fastball that sits in the mid-to-high 90s as well as a filthy curveball and slider. He has the talent to be a tremendous pitcher and could easily reach elite status in the next three years.

Francisco Liriano, who was named the Pirates’ Opening Day starter earlier this week, signed a three-year, $39 million contract this past winter. He has had two consecutive outstanding seasons and should be a reliable starter for the life of his contract.

And there are plenty of reinforcements on the farm, especially the two players who most publications rank as the Pirates’ best prospects.

21-year-old Tyler Glasnow and 23-year-old Jameson Taillon, both hard-throwing right-handers, are two of the most highly touted pitching prospects in the game. 

Glasnow battled a back injury at the beginning of last season but was still able to finish the year with a sparkling 1.74 ERA and 157 strikeouts in only 124.1 innings. His command is still raw and he needs a few more years of development, but once he’s ready, he will be filthy.

Unlike Glasnow, Taillon did not have the chance to star in the minors in 2014. He had Tommy John surgery last April, and he was told Thursday that he will report to Triple-A Indianapolis to start the season. It shows how much confidence the Pirates have in the guy that they would put him on the doorstep of the big legaues without even making a spring training appearance as he recovers from surgery.

Here is part of’s scouting report of Taillon:

Taillon is a classic power right-hander, mixing good size with a mid-90s fastball and a hard curveball. His changeup has also made strides, giving him a chance for three above-average pitches. Taillon‘s fastball has good sinking action, but it tends to flatten out and become easier to hit if he leaves it up in the zone.

If a pitcher of Taillon‘s stature and velocity has three above-average offerings, he has a chance to be great. I think he will be a quality MLB pitcher in the next three years, and after a few years of getting accustomed to big league hitters, he could be terrific.

Nick Kingham, another promising pitching prospect, is no slouch himself. He was committed to Oregon out of high school, but he chose to become a professional in 2010 when he was given a hefty bonus as a fourth-round pick. According to, he has three “Major League average or better” pitches and could make his debut in 2015 if everything falls into place for the 6’5″, 220-pound righty.

Mark Melancon and Tony Watson will anchor a bullpen that is consistently strong. Pittsburgh ranked ninth in the league in 2014 in bullpen ERA, and there is no reason they shouldn’t be solid again this year.

It’s safe to say the Pirates are loaded in the pitching department, but it is the offense that could be potentially scary as early as this year.

With an outfield comprised of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, they have one of the youngest, most exciting trios in the league. They are all ultratalented and will stick together for several years if the front office can sign them all to long-term contracts.

All three are legitimate five-tool players. McCutchen is one of the top three or four all-around hitters in the league, Marte is a burner on the basepaths and in the outfield, and Polanco has loads of power and speed packed into his 6’4, 200-pound frame.

In a recent column by Jayson Stark of, he makes a compelling case that they are the best outfield in the MLB. They could all be All-Stars soon, and all three are under team control until at least 2018. The Pirates should enjoy their success for several years down the road.

There is plenty of talent around the diamond too. Josh Harrison had a breakout campaign in 2014, slashing .315/.347/.490 in his first MLB season of playing at least 105 games. He can play basically anywhere on the field. He played five different positions in 2014, mostly third base, and also made an appearance on the mound in 2013. A player who can hit so well in addition to possessing that type of defensive versatility is an incredible asset for a manager, especially one as creative as Clint Hurdle. 

Pedro Alvarez is one of the most powerful hitters in the league, and he should be able to return to his All-Star days now that he is moving from the hot corner across the diamond to first base, a less strenuous position. He should be able to focus more on his hitting and could easily hit 30 or more homers in 2015.

The Pirates’ keystone combination is plenty good as well. Second baseman Neil Walker’s 23 round-trippers were tied with the Twins‘ Brian Dozier for the most homers by a second baseman in 2014, and Jordy Mercer is an above-average defensive shortstop, according to Baseball-Reference’s defensive metrics.

Russell Martin was a pivotal part of both playoff teams, and he will definitely be tough to replace, but Tony Sanchez, a former top prospect, has been on fire this spring training.

He is currently hitting .529 with two home runs and two doubles, and Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette thinks that Sanchez has a chance to be the starting catcher in 2015. He obviously has the talent, and if he can find a way to put it all together, he could be a breakout star.

And don’t forget about recent top picks Austin Meadows and Josh Bell, who are ranked third and fourth, respectively, in the Pirates’ farm system per Baseball America. Both possess tremendous tools at the plate, and the only question is whether there will be room for them to contribute on Pittsburgh’s roster.

Simply put, the Pirates are loaded. They have a surplus of talented youngsters, which is definitely a good problem to have.

Sure, the Buccos have made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, but they have failed to advance farther than the National League Division Series in both cases. They have the pieces to become a perennial pennant contender, and I think they will.

It is safe to say that the team will raise the Jolly Roger plenty of times in the future, maybe even once or twice in a World Series atmosphere.  

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