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Bucs’ young core advancing steadily in ‘right direction’ | News, Sports, Jobs

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Oneil Cruz, center, heads home to score between St. Louis Cardinals starter Matthew Liberatore (52) and catcher Andrew Knizner, left, on a double by Diego Castillo during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH — The afternoon sunshine gave way to a pristine golden hour. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. The Roberto Clemente Bridge, which has been undergoing construction all season, stood tall in the background of PNC Park, donning a fresh coat of paint. The structure is not yet complete, but the finish line is within grasp.

Perhaps in a year or two, the Pirates will view this moment, this sliver of time — one accentuated by a 5-3 win over the Cardinals on the season’s final day — as a bit of foreshadowing.

“There are definitely signs of how we’re moving in the right direction,” said manager Derek Shelton. “It is frustrating as it can be at times. It’s part of the process. But I think our processes is starting to really show that it’s working.”

The Pirates finish the 2022 season, their third with Shelton at the helm, with a record of 62-100. To hit the century mark in the loss column for a second year is, without question, unsavory. But as various members of the team take a step back and evaluate the season, there is a uniform sense of optimism that better days lie in the not-so-distant future.

“I think if you ask anyone here, they’re not happy with the ultimate season, but I also think there were a lot of good things that came out of it,” said Bryan Reynolds. “A lot of good, young players came up and produced well for us. We’ve got a bunch of good, young players in the minors.

“We had (Oneil) Cruz come up, (Roansy) Contreras, (Luis) Ortiz. There’s too many to go through right now, but a lot of guys came up and showed the future’s bright. Obviously, in the moment, (it) didn’t go the way we would have liked, but I think in the future, it will.”

The roster, as currently constructed, features a brevity of foundational parts and pieces. Reynolds and David Bednar are both All-Stars. Ke’Bryan Hayes is a candidate to win a Gold Glove, if not a Platinum Glove. Cruz and Contreras teased their tantalizing talent as rookies. Mitch Keller’s offseason work bore fruit, and he posted the best season of his career. So on and so forth.

Those are just the names on the Major League roster, as the farm system currently features a collection of prospects who could debut as early as next year.

Quinn Priester, Endy Rodriguez and Mike Burrows — the Pirates’ No. 3, No. 6 and No. 8 prospects per MLB Pipeline, respectively — have all gotten a taste at Triple-A Indianapolis. Henry Davis and Nick Gonzales — Pittsburgh’s No. 1 and No. 5 prospects per MLB Pipeline, respectively — will likely begin next season at Indianapolis and could very well be donning the black and gold by season’s end as well. There are also the under-the-radar names that had great seasons, such as outfielder/catcher Blake Sabol and outfielder Matt Gorski, among others, who could earn their way to Pittsburgh.

“Sometimes, it’s frustrating in the process,” Shelton said. “Sometimes, that process can make you gray, like it’s done me a little bit. But yeah, I think we’re starting to see the growth. That growth comes back to what we’ve done over the last two years. We’re starting to see the guts of that core that’s going to be able to help us do that.”

For all the young talent in the organization, the Pirates stand to benefit from adding veterans into the mix. Pittsburgh had several veteran presences in its clubhouse this year in Jose Quintana, Chris Stratton and Daniel Vogelbach — a trio just about universally praised for being positive influences — but all three were dealt at the Trade Deadline. For a young team that got younger as the year went on, a couple of veterans would be invaluable, as this core learns to consistently win at the Major League level.

“I think it will be great if they bring in a veteran, especially a pitcher to come over here. When we had Quintana here, Quintana was huge for us,” Contreras said through team interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “The IQ of baseball that he has, the information that he would share with us, even just seeing how he would go about his day, his preparation. I feel like having veterans around here, especially us being such a young team, is going to be very beneficial for us.”

“You can see the common core here, and you know what’s happening, and you know what we have coming,” said Wil Crowe, “but at the same time, you add a piece here, a piece there, and we got a really good chance to be a really, really good team.”

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