Optimism! Optimism! I'll give this a shot.
1. Andrew McCutchen's debut. McCutchen has been tantalizing us in the minors for years, and this year we'll finally get to see him in the bigs. Expect a solid approach at the plate, a decent average and good defense. In other words, expect a competent, well-rounded position player, the kind seen too few of in Pittsburgh these past several years.
2. Pedro Alvarez charging through the minors. Well, hopefully. Alvarez hasn't had a single official pro at-bat yet, but he hit .444 in 18 Spring Training at bats and elicited comparisons to Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols and Babe Ruth. It goes without saying that those comparisons are all hyperbolic, but until Alvarez proves that's true, we can dream, right?
3. Latin America is back. A number of prospects from the Pirates' newly-unclogged Latin American talent pipeline are likely to make their stateside debuts this year. WTM has some suggestions about who to watch out for.
4. Ryan Doumit. Doumit's .875 OPS ranked fourth among catchers with at least 400 plate appearances last year, ahead of everyone but Brian McCann, Joe Mauer and Geovany Soto (and he was just one OPS point behind Mauer and Soto). He's one of the best offensive catchers in the business, and we should be thrilled to have him around.
5. The draft, the draft, the draft. The Bucs' 2008 draft was far better than any draft conducted under Dave Littlefield, both in terms of the team's willingness to spend and in who they signed (although, obviously, much remains to be proven on that last front). Bob Nutting has already told the Pirates' front office he expects more of the same this year, so expect the two draft days to be all kinds of fun.
6. Defensive improvements. Defensively, the Pirates should be better at third base (assuming Andy LaRoche is healthy), center field and left field. They may also be better in right, and they shouldn't be appreciably worse at any of the other positions, at least not until there are trades. That's good, because one of the least-understood stories of the Pirates' 2008 season was the effect of the Bucs' terrible defense on its pitchers, particularly Zach Duke and Ian Snell. This isn't to say that either of those guys would've been like Walter Johnson if they'd had real defenses behind them, only that they wouldn't have looked nearly so bad.
7. Andy LaRoche. Yeah, I said it. LaRoche was good his entire pro career until last season, when he mysteriously couldn't do anything. If those struggles were the result of the thumb surgery he had before last season, and if he's healthy, maybe his solid Spring Training performance this year means something, and he can pick up where he left off. Hey, I believe. Sort of.
8. Exodus from the N.L. Central. The only top talent to join an N.L. Central team this offseason was Milton Bradley, while C.C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Kerry Wood, Mark DeRosa and Ty Wigginton all left. No team in the Central had a particularly good offseason, and a weakened division could mean more wins for the Pirates than they ordinarily would've had. (Of course, we're ignoring for now that the Bucs dealt Jason Bay in July.)
9. Embrace change! Adam LaRoche and John Grabow will probably be dealt this season, and Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez could go as well. Maybe that's not exciting for most Pirates fans, but I think it should be, because whoever comes back is much more likely to be part of the next winning Pirates team than those folks are. Speaking of which...
10. Jose Tabata. Forget the bizarre wife-baby-kidnapping-fatherhood-fraud story. The story that got lost in the shuffle is that Tabata hit .407 this spring. That might not mean anything, but Tabata has done nothing but hit since being traded to the Bucs in July. He's only 20, and he can keep his personal life from affecting his play, he could be a lot of fun this year, and perhaps even make it to Pittsburgh by season's end.