Can Cole and Other Top Prospects Bring Winning Ways Back to Pittsburgh?

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IIJune 17, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 11:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches in his first major league start in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants during the game on June 11, 2013 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It's been 20 years since the Pittsburgh Pirates had a winning record, let alone made the playoffs.

However, with a bevy of young prospects in the minor leagues, could Pittsburgh be back to their winning ways for good?

We saw what the Pirates were capable of doing in the first half last year, only to falter in the second half.

This year, the first half has been much of the same although the Pirates have seven more wins to their credit compared to last year.

And it only seems like it's going to get better with the emergence of Starling Marte at the plate, and Gerrit Cole on the mound.

The Pirates could legitimately be a team competing for the playoffs every year over the next decade.

But will they?


The Minors

With Cole recently being called up, the Pirates farm system is still chalked full of good prospects.

Jameson Taillon will likely get called up next year, giving the Pirates another top-of-the-rotation starter.

The one thing that hurts is most of the rest of their top prospects are still a few years away.

Shortstop Alen Hanson, outfielder Gregory Polanco and pitcher Luis Heredia all aren't expected to make their debuts until 2015. The same goes for outfielders Josh Bell and Barrett Barnes. Catcher Kyle Mathisen isn't expected to be up until 2016.

Besides Taillon, the only real relief the Pirates will get from the minors is from pitcher Kyle McPherson, who is having his own struggles in Triple-A, and first baseman Alex Dickerson.

While Cole will definitely help the Pirates this year, there's a big question mark heading into next year.


Beyond 2014

A.J. Burnett is a free agent after this season but could be replaced by Taillon, should he choose to sign elsewhere this offseason.

In fact, the only two players signed beyond 2014 are outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata.

Players like Starling Marte, James McDonald, Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones, Travis Snider and Jeff Locke are all still in arbitration years, meaning they'll be around for a bit as well.

There's a good core of young players there that could keep the Pirates successful.

Where the Pirates are going to have to improve is at shortstop. Clint Barmes is a good defender but continually bats at or around the Mendoza Line.

Wandy Rodriguez could also be out after 2014 (free agency) as could Francisco Liriano.

As long as the Pirates keep their salaries at or under $80 million, some of those players won't be able to be kept. Especially considering the big paydays that could be coming to the younger players once they are finished with arbitration.


Winning in the Future?

While guys like Cole and Taillon are great pieces to have in a starting rotation, the Pirates are still going to need more.

They need to get more production at the plate from some areas.

While Alvarez can hit home runs like nobody's business, the fact remains he has a .233 career batting average. Can they really afford to keep him at the hot corner with his .930 (at best) fielding percentage? Does Alvarez project as another Adam Dunn-type player?

The starting rotation will be good, but more has to come from the lineup.

If it doesn't, the Pirates could be forced to struggle a few years down the road.