This time, though, there's some pretty good tangible proof. Yes, the Pirates finished with the worst record in baseball, but they got very real contributions from a trio of rookies, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata. This comes on the heels of having two top 10 finishers in the National League Rookie of the Year in 2009.
"I think it was a very productive year," Pirates farm director Kyle Stark said. "The upper level guys who needed to take a step forward did that and transitioned well to Pittsburgh for the most part."
That wasn't the only good sign. The Pirates system finished with a combined .528 winning percentage, good for eighth among all Major League teams. The Altoona Curve won their first Eastern Legaue title while the Bradenton Marauders made the Florida State League playoffs in their first year in the Class A Advanced League.
"As we look at young guys like that, who had never faced adversity, we welcomed that opportunity," Stark said of sending many to State College in the New York-Penn League. "There are things we could've done to help them put up bigger numbers, but that would have short-changed them. These are guys who grew up as men and as pitchers."
MLB.com's Preseason Picks
Starling Marte, OF: He made a splash in his United States debut in 2009, and the hope was that he'd continue in his first full season state-side. He certainly wasn't bad, hitting .319/.386/.460 with 26 steals, nearly all with Class A Advanced Bradenton at age 21. But he only played in 68 total games because of a broken hamate bone that required surgery.
Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP: The thinking was to go with one of the high school arms the Pirates took in the 2009 Draft. Von Rosenberg was thought to be advanced enough to have success right away in his debut season, and he wasn't bad, with a 3.20 ERA in 13 New York-Penn League starts. But ZVR's .267 batting average against and low strikeout rate (39 in 59 IP) means someone else gets the honor.
MLB.com's Postseason Selections
Alex Presley, OF: The 2006 draftee looked more like an organizational type, a guy who spent two seasons in Class A Advanced ball in 2008-09. But something clicked for the outfielder, starting with a .350/.399/.533 line in 67 games with Double-A Altoona. He kept hitting in Triple-A to finish with a combined .320/.373/.494 mark and his first big league callup. He led the organization in hitting and finished fourth with 85 RBIs.
Rudy Owens, LHP: The preview read that it was hard not to go with Owens, who won this honor in 2009. Guess that hunch should've been followed. The lefty moved up to Double-A and promptly led the organization in ERA (2.46) and wins (tied with 12) and finished third in strikeouts (132). The 22-year-old held Eastern League hitters to a .226 average.