This year saw the emergence of Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and James McDonald as young players who made an impact for the Bucs for the first time. This year will bring an entirely new crop of youngsters. Here are the five I think are most likely to make an impact in the big leagues. It didn't matter to me whether these players fit the MLB criteria to be rookies, only that they were relatively young and hadn't had a regular role with the Pirates before.
1. and 2. Bryan Morris and Rudy Owens. Morris and Owens occupy the top two spots in part because the Pirates' rotation could be a revolving door next year if Charlie Morton and Brad Lincoln don't step up, but Morris and Owens are also obviously good prospects in their own right. Morris has greater upside and I'm sure the Pirates like him better, given their preference for pitchers with good stuff, but I'm convinced Owens could pitch in the majors right now without embarrassing himself. Justin Wilson and Jeff Locke could also conceivably appear in the Pirates' rotation next year, but the Bucs will probably bring those two along a little bit more slowly. In any case, I hope that when the revolving door starts moving, it will be guys like Morris and Owens coming through, and not someone like Joe Martinez.
3. Diego Moreno. Why not? Moreno pitched mostly at Class A+ last year, but if there's any player type that can move up a couple levels without losing much effectiveness, it's relievers with great numbers and stuff. Look at Francisco Rodriguez's career, for example - in 2001 he was pitching in Class A+, but in 2002 he flew through the minors and ended the year making big-league hitters look foolish. It's not that I think Moreno is anywhere near as good as Rodriguez, just that with lights-out relievers there's often very little need to make them wait the better part of a year for each promotion. Moreno probably won't make the team out of Spring Training, but I wouldn't be shocked at all if he forced the Pirates' hand by June.
4. Chase D'Arnaud. D'Arnaud didn't have the best year in Altoona, but some of that might have been due to his recovery from pneumonia, and all he really lost compared to 2009 was a couple dozen points of batting average. On top of that, the Pirates' infield could be in flux next year. Ronny Cedeno doesn't have a hammerlock on the shortstop position, and the next two guys on the depth chart (Pedro Ciriaco and Argenis Diaz) are glove-first types who can't hit. The Pirates' second and third basemen, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez, are obvious big-leaguers, but neither of them can really field their positions. D'Arnaud needs to focus on returning to his 2009 form before working about the big leagues, clearly, but there could be a nice opportunity for him if he gets off to a good start and Cedeno struggles. Then again, it's also possible that shortstop could go to Jordy Mercer in that scenario - the Pirates evidently like Mercer's defense a bit better now, and they've sent Mercer to play in the Arizona Fall League. In any case, the Pirates have about a billion middle infield options, none of them ideal.
5. John Bowker. Bowker is older than any of the others on this list and has yet to prove he can hit in the majors, but he played a lot for the Pirates at the tail end of the season, and his minor-league numbers suggest he deserves another shot. He's also out of options, which could work in his favor - someone like Alex Presley arguably deserves the playing time more, but since Presley has options left, the Pirates can send him to AAA while they work out what to do with Bowker, Jeff Clement, Steve Pearce and Brandon Moss. Pearce seems like the best option of the four, particularly given that he can platoon with Garrett Jones, but the Pirates have shown so little interest in him over the years that I'm guessing Bowker and perhaps Clement will get the most playing time of the four.