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Friday, March 15, 2013
Pirates' future rests on Cole, Taillon

By David Schoenfield

Jayson Stark has a story up on five reasons the Pittsburgh Pirates can finally crack .500 -- you know, something they haven't done since Barry Bonds was still with the team, way back in 1992.

Gerrit Cole, the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, is expected to join the Pirates' rotation at some point. And there's no doubt the future of the Pirates, to a large degree, rests on the powerful right arms of Cole and Jameson Taillon, the second overall pick in 2010. Jayson writes:
Taillon, coming off an eye-popping start for Team Canada against the USA last week, has already been sent out and is likely bound for Double-A. But Cole, the first player picked in the country in the 2011 draft, remains in camp. And some scouts think he's already one of this team's five best starters.

He's a long shot to make the club. But at some point, he's positioned to force his way into the big leagues, on the way to True Acehood. And Taillon might not be far behind.

"I think they're every bit as good as what people say they are," said (Neil) Walker. "I don't think it's going to be long before those guys are making an impact on our team. And that's something that we've been missing, is those impact players in the minor leagues who come up and really help us."

That's kind of the understatement of the year. Certainly, when you haven't had a winning season in 20 years, the minor leagues haven't produced much talent. But for the Pirates, it's been a mind-numbing two decades of incompetence and bad luck. Consider this: The last pitcher the Pirates drafted or signed as an international free agent who produced at least two 3-WAR seasons with Pittsburgh was Francisco Cordova. The Pirates signed him out of Mexico and he had 4.2 and 5.2 WAR in 1997 and '98.

But before that? You have to go all the way back to ... John Candelaria, who had six 3-WAR seasons with the Pirates. He was drafted in 1972 and reached the majors in 1975.

Now, maybe you think 3.0 WAR is too high of a standard. Thirty-five pitchers reached that in 2012, 39 in 2011, so we're only talking about a little more than one per team on average each season. Still ... that's one consistent quality starter developed internally in nearly 40 years (and Cordova burned out after those two good seasons). Some guys were one-year wonders -- Oliver Perez; former No.1 overall pick Kris Benson, who had a 4.8 season before getting injured; Paul Maholm, Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny each had one 3-WAR season; John Smiley won 20 games in 1991, but then was traded to the Twins -- but most of Pittsburgh's best starters have come over from other organizations (Doug Drabek, Denny Neagle, Rick Reuschel, even A.J. Burnett and James McDonald last year).

In other words, the Pirates are due. Way due for a little good luck. Cole, despite his potential is no sure thing. The Royals just sent Luke Hochevar, the first pick in 2006, to the bullpen after finally giving up on him as a starter. Pirates fans know all too well about Bryan Bullington, the first pick in 2002, not to mention Benson. On the other hand, Stephen Strasburg and David Price were recent No. 1 picks, and Cole's ability is more like theirs than Hochevar's.

For the Pirates' sake, let's hope Cole and Taillon are more Strasburg and Justin Verlander than Matt Anderson and Greg Reynolds. I don't know if they'll get to .500 this year (they'll miss beating up on the Astros), but Cole and Taillon might get them there in 2014.