FLB: Pirates preview

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Futility, thy name is the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sure, this team did win the World Series more recently than the Chicago Cubs, and it has won a World Series, whereas teams like the Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers never have. But as the 2006 season dawns, these Pirates are riding the longest streak of losing seasons, at 13. Pittsburgh has averaged 69 wins per year during that span, and under the Lloyd McClendon era from 2001-05, the Pirates never won more than 75 games or finished higher than fourth in their division.

But there is new hope in Pittsburgh, led by several top pitching prospects just getting their feet wet in the majors, a new manager (Jim Tracy) and one of the best young sluggers in the game (Jason Bay). The Pirates, who have generally drafted high in the first round for the past decade due to poor regular-season finishes, have spent the better part of that time investing heavily in young pitching. From 2000-03 on, Pittsburgh has used all of its first-round picks and nine of 11 picks in the first three rounds of the draft on pitchers. Among the prospects the Pirates now have to show for that are Sean Burnett, Bryan Bullington, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm, John Van Benschoten and Zach Duke, all of whom could get a look in the major-league rotation at some point. Maholm and Duke have already demonstrated their ability to get major-league hitters out in brief stints in 2005, while Gorzelanny is probably the next-closest prospect to breaking the starting five.