With Chris Leroux's assignment to Indy, the Bucs' opening day 2011 roster is set. The big league team:
Starters: RHPs Kevin Correia, James McDonald, Charlie Morton, Ross Ohlendorf and LHP Paul Maholm.
Bullpen: RHPs Mike Crotta, Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens, Evan Meek, Chris Resop, Jose Veras & LHP Garrett Olson.
Catchers: Ryan Doumit (SH), Jason Jaramillo (SH).
Infielders: Pedro Alvarez (LH), Ronny Cedeno (RH), Lyle Overbay (LH), Steve Pearce (RH), Josh Rodriguez (RH) and Neil Walker (SH).
Outfielders: John Bowker (LH), Matt Diaz (RH), Garrett Jones (LH), Andrew McCutchen (RH) and Jose Tabata (RH).
The starting pitching is the key, and it's loaded with questions, like whassup with Ohlie, how will J-Mac progress as a starter, and what season will we get out of Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, and Charlie Morton - 2009 or 2010?
There's nothing resembling an ace in the group, but all of them are capable of tossing 150-200 IP and putting up an ERA of four or so. If that happens, the Pirates may see 75 wins, and while that doesn't snap the futility streak, it is a big step up from last year's finish.
So we'll see how the quiz gets answered. And hey, if a repeat of 2010's performance is what's in the cards - and we think they'll be noticeably improved - at least the cavalry is starting to ride up the hill, represented by the arms of Brad Lincoln, Bryan Morris and Rudy Owens.
Jeff Locke and Justin Wilson aren't far removed from that list, and there are a horde of young guns still learning their craft in the lower levels.
It's a staff that's built to be placeholders for the young guys; we're still a couple of seasons removed from seeing the awaited transition take place.
The bullpen is young and throws bullets for the most part; how well Hanny and Meek close out games will define the relief corps this season. It has the potential to be strong if they can carry the load.
Veras and Resop are more than adequate bridge men, and Karstens and Crotta can handle long duty. Gregg Olson is the lefty wild card, but Joe Beimel should be back before too long, and Chris Leroux should be able to step in if one of the righties falter.
Dan Moskos, Ramon Aguerro and Tony Watson got some love in the spring, but all three have to show they can handle a AAA batter before they're penciled in as part of the future.
It would be a great help if the starting pitchers can get into the seventh inning or deeper this year. Clint Hurdle is trying to install that mind-set, and except for Ohlie, the message seems to be sinking in.
The position players, for once, have their roles clearly defined and won't have to look over their shoulders this year. McCutch is a star in the making, Overbay is Garrett Jones with a glove at first, and the Jones/Diaz tandem in right is a big upgrade in the power department.
Tabata, Alvarez and Walker will face the sophomore jinx challenge, and judging by camp and past experiences, Pedro will have the hardest adjustment; power hitters take a little longer to settle into a groove as a general rule.
The Snyder/Dewey duet should be better behind the plate as the Bucs prepare for a Tony Sanchez takeover in 2012; Jaramillo should be adequate behind him.
Ronny Cedeno, we suspect, is getting his last chance to prove that he can focus every day instead of a week or two at a time. Even without outside help, Rodriguez and Pedro Ciriaco could step in for him this season, while Chase d'Arnaud tries to reclaim his shortstop-in-waiting status.
The bench was selected for offensive potential; only Steve Pearce brings a top-notch glove to the parade. They don't run very well, either. But Rodriguez is a MLB-grade prospect, Bowker showed some springtime muscle, and the punch they provide may overcome the lack of a pinch runner or true center field back-up without a lot of position-shuffling.
The Pirate FO has a bias for power pitching, and it shows in how they're building the team. Overbay is the only guy that can consistently glove a grounder, but the outfield, especially with Jones getting the lion's share of starts, should be able to run balls down.
And that's good news in the long run as the Bucs swap out finesse arms for heat-seekers; Pittsburgh is much better built defensively right now for fly-ball pitchers that can mix some Ks into the mix.
The managing will be as good as the players, as always. Hurdle has stressed a couple of 2010 weak points in the spring, emphasizing that the squad develop an aggressive attitude on the bases and slow down their opponents, with mixed success.
But his media value as a spokesman for a team that regularly shoots itself in the foot PR-wise will be welcome; the taciturn JR often turned off fans with his quiet demeanor, who often took his John Wayne act as a sign of indifference. So that's a major plus in itself.
Our guess is this team should win 70-75 games, and will be the foundation for future years. That's not much solace for the impatient fan base, but building from scratch takes time, and the clock has at last started.