Cockcroft: Pittsburgh Pirates preview

Is bad luck to blame for the Pirates' string of 14 consecutive losing seasons? Having averaged 92 losses the past nine years, Pittsburgh has had plenty of chances to draft prime players to restock the farm system. And from 1998-2003, the Pirates used each of their first picks in the amateur draft to select pitchers, on the idea that that's how you build a winner.

Well, it's 2007 now, and only one of those six pitchers is a lock for the Pirates' rotation: Paul Maholm (2003), whose 1.608 WHIP was second-worst in the majors among qualifiers in 2006. The other five -- Clint Johnston (1998), Bobby Bradley (1999), Sean Burnett (2000), John Van Benschoten (2001) and Bryan Bullington (2002) -- have each succumbed to at least one major surgery. What's worse, 2006 first rounder (No. 4 overall) Brad Lincoln has been shut down for all of spring training due to elbow irritation, continuing the jinx that seems to strike most every Pirates pitching product.

Still, despite all that pain, the Pirates do have a handful of young, up-and-coming pitchers who do offer a glimmer of hope. Zach Duke, a 20th rounder in 2001, bounced back from a shaky first half to post a 3.65 ERA after the All-Star break; Ian Snell, a 26th rounder in 2000, struck out an impressive 169 batters in 186 innings in his first full season; and Tom Gorzelanny, a second rounder in 2003, had a 3.79 ERA in an 11-start late-season trial. In the bullpen, potential closer Matt Capps had a 3.79 ERA and 1.153 WHIP while making 85 appearances, second in the National League. That's not a bad start for a team looking to build a long-term, home-grown staff, but there's one thing that does hurt its chances...