The AFL typically features more advanced players in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues, though there is a chance that Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, could also be among the prospects the Pirates send west.
Other winter ball opportunities, however, are open to current Major Leaguers, and the Pirates are going to push a number of players who are on the big league roster -- or have been at some point this season -- to take advantage of those playing chances.
"I believe in [playing winter ball] with all my heart," said manager Clint Hurdle, who participated in it four times as a player. "They need to do what's right and not what's comfortable and convenient sometimes. It's a challenge to go down there and play. Some people don't have the courage to take the step."
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez is expected to be among the players encouraged to play this winter. Others who have missed time due to injury this year will also be asked to participate in order to make up for time missed. Jose Tabata, Evan Meek and Ross Ohlendorf could fall in that group.
General manager Neal Huntington has expressed disappointment in the past with the lack of interest Major League players have shown toward playing during the offseason. Tabata and Charlie Morton were among the players that benefited from winter ball experiences in 2010.