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The only place to go is up

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Last season, the Pittsburgh Pirates slid to the lowest depths in all of baseball, securing the number one overall pick in humiliating fashion. Sure, it was a COVID season, but that’s no excuse for what we witnessed over the course of 60 games in 2020. When a team’s intention is to clearly rebuild, as is now the case, it’s one thing to be the whipping post for everyone else. But the way the Pirates (19-41) did it was unsettling.

Now, with prospects coming in by the truckload and established major leaguers exiting like it’s closing time, à la Semisonic, the only place the organization can go, I presume, is up. The Pirates now have a top 10 prospect at each infield position, according to Baseball America, and four prospects in the top 100, according to MLB Pipeline.

No, things won’t be on the rise next year — at least, not from a record standpoint. It’s exceedingly likely that the Pirates will continue to carve out their corner at the bottom of the National League Central. They may very well end up with the number one overall pick for the second consecutive year. But the fact is that the farm system is shaping up nicely. As we’ve come to know recently, however, is that farm depth doesn’t necessarily equate to big league success.

This could be because players fizzle out and never reach their potential; or, as is the case with the Pirates, poor development and front office miscues resulted in the underutilization of several key components. Those shortcomings have led to us watching once-promising Bucs don different uniforms.

Alas, all is not lost — at least in theory. There is a new captain at the helm, and apparently a new direction has been charted. Sure, Nutting still owns the team, but perhaps a savvier middleman can pull some strings a bit better than what we’ve been seeing in years past. I understand that it’s hard to remain upbeat and optimistic about this franchise; for those of you disheartened enough to unleash harsh diatribes against the organization: I get it. For those of you disillusioned enough to actually give up on the franchise: I understand.

But for those of you still sticking around, including the former group I just alluded to, this is perhaps the time to be as optimistic as you have been in a while. The “payoff” — in whatever form it could potentially take — is in all likelihood still several years down the road. But right now, all signs point to go. This team may never reach the pinnacle of baseball in any of our lifetimes — a sobering potential truth; but its newfound disposition of completely ripping apart the whole entity to the studs is the closest thing we’ve got to charting a new — and potentially worthwhile — course. The fruits of Cherington’s labor, if that tree is to bloom, are still some time off. But at least we actually have something to look forward to.