The Pirates won 98 games in 2015, but their best talent may not have even arrived yet.
While the big league club rolled to its highest win total since 1991, Pittsburgh's domestic Minor League affiliates produced a combined .547 winning percentage. Class A Short Season West Virginia took home the New York-Penn League championship in the franchise's first-ever season. Triple-A Indianapolis came a win away from its own title in the International League. In all, four teams made the playoffs, two won their divisions and five posted winning records.
Along the way, health played its part. While highly regarded pitching prospects Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham lost time recovering from Tommy John surgery, outfielder Austin Meadows and right-hander Tyler Glasnow overcame ailments to produce fine seasons and demonstrate why they're the 22nd and 7th-ranked prospects in baseball, respectively.
Though no prospect made the kind of Major League impact Gregory Polanco did a season ago as a rookie, players such as Glasnow and No. 3 prospect Josh Bell could arrive at PNC Park sometime in 2016.
Pirates Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Elias Diaz, Indianapolis (93 games), Pittsburgh (2 games): For the second straight year, Diaz makes his way onto this list. The Pirates' No. 14 prospect reinforced his standing as a strong defensive catcher, gunning down 14 of 46 potential base-stealers (30 percent) and producing a .984 fielding percentage. Offensively, the 25-year-old hit .271 and tied for the lead among organizational catchers in RBIs with 47. He earned a trip to the Futures Game in Cincinnati before joining the Pirates in September.
"He certainly has all the tools and potential to be an everyday [Major League] catcher," said Pittsburgh's Director of Minor League Operations, Larry Broadway. "His bat has been impressive over the last three seasons, not just this year in [Triple-A]."
First baseman -- Josh Bell, Altoona (96 games), Indianapolis (35 games): Since moving to first base during instructs and the Arizona Fall League after the 2014 season, Bell has proven capable of handling the challenge. In his first regular season as an infielder, MLB.com's No. 31 prospect finished second in the organization in hits (155) and RBIs (78) while hitting .347/.441/.504 in 35 games after making the jump to Triple-A.
Though the new position resulted in 16 errors, and he didn't often perform up to his power potential, Pittsburgh is still excited as he continues preparing to take over the big league first base job in the near future.
"Developmentally it was huge for him to get up to Triple-A as a 22-year-old this year and do well," Broadway said. "He got a good taste of what upper-level pitchers are going to try to do to get him out, which will be a good building block for this offseason moving into next spring.
"Power is the last thing to come with good Major League hitters. He is focused on learning to be a good hitter first, the power will be there. Defensively he has definitely made progress and will continue to improve as he is driven to be the best he can be."
Honorable mention: Carlos Munoz slashed .325/.427/.587 over 56 games for Rookie-level Bristol, recording the Appalachian League's first three-homer game since 2011 and winning league MVP honors in the process. He finished the year on West Virginia's New York Penn League Championship squad.
Second baseman -- Max Moroff, Altoona (136 games): Taken in the 16th round of the 2012 Draft, Moroff came out of nowhere to win the Pirates Minor League Player of the Year award. The 22-year-old appeared in more games for Double-A Altoona than any other player in the organization. He also ranked first in walks (70) and third in hits (153) while pacing the Eastern League in runs scored (79) and fielding percentage among second baseman (.978). Despite not being ranked among its top 30 prospects, Pittsburgh protected Moroff on its 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft.
"We've always liked Max and believe that he will be a quality Major League player," said Broadway. "Those who have been close to Max know that he is very talented, but has also put in a ton of work both in-season and out of season, and has a ton of grit."
Third baseman -- Jordan Luplow -- West Virginia (106 games): Despite lacking plus tools, the 2014 third-round pick steadily improved in his first full season with Class A West Virginia. The Fresno State University product led the Power with 12 home runs and the organization with 36 doubles, despite only registering a 40-grade for power on MLB.com's 20-80 scale. Nine of those homers came during a strong second half that included a 13-game hitting streak from Aug. 2-15.
"The biggest positive was that he finished stronger than he started," said Broadway. "It can be easy to tank a season after a bad start, but he kept showing up every day, and steadily improved as the season went on to be one of the most productive hitters on his club."
Shortstop -- Cole Tucker, West Virginia (73 games): Last year's first-round pick by the Pirates turned in a productive first full season, despite being limited by a torn labrum that required surgery in August. Though the injury could keep him sidelined for up to a year, the 19-year-old still improved in nearly every offensive area when he was on the field, including swiping 25 bases in 31 tries.
"He did a great job both on and off the field," Broadway said. "We couldn't have been more pleased with his progress. He fit right in like he's been a pro for a couple years already."
Austin Meadows, Bradenton (121 games), Altoona (6 games): Meadows avoided the injury bug to complete his first year with more than 48 appearances. The 20-year-old was third in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League with a .307 average when he was promoted to Altoona on Sept. 2. The ninth overall pick in the 2013 Draft was even more impressive with the Curve as he hit .400 (6-for-15) in the Eastern League playoffs, including a crucial game-tying home run to help Altoona rally from seven runs down against eventual-champion Bowie in Game 1 of the semifinals.
Even with Andrew McCutchen, Polanco and Starling Marte already in place in Pittsburgh's outfield, the team won't hesitate to challenge Meadows to keep advancing, as a trip to the Arizona Fall League after the season will attest.
"We were very pleased with the year that Austin had," Broadway said. "We will always try to do what is best for the player. Once he's ready to face the challenges of the next level, we'll get him moving."
Jose Osuna, Bradenton (44 games), Altoona (85 games): After spending two and a half seasons toiling in Bradenton, Osuna finally broke through to Altoona in late May.
Once he entered the Eastern League, the 22-year-old set about putting together his best statistical season yet, hitting .288/.327/.437 over 85 games with the Curve and smoothly transitioning to first base once Bell was promoted to Indianapolis. His 81 RBIs between the two stops, three more than Bell, led the organization.
Michael Suchy, West Virginia (124 games): In his second year out of Florida Gulf Coast University, Suchy developed into a viable power threat in the middle of the Power lineup. Following a slow start, the 22-year-old rebounded to drive in 76 runs (second in the organization) and belted 34 doubles. In fact, 40 percent of his 123 hits went for extra bases. His hometown of Bradenton will likely be his destination in 2016.
"Michael grew a lot this year," said Broadway. "Similar to Luplow, he didn't start off setting the world on fire offensively. He did learn how to grind through the everyday of the professional season, which is one of the main functions of the South Atlantic League."
Utility -- Adam Frazier, Altoona (103 games): The 23-year-old Frazier put together his best offensive season in his third year as a pro, splitting time between the outfield and shortstop. The Georgia native's .324 average was second only to Eastern League batting champion Trey Mancini of Bowie, while his .416 slugging percentage was 54 points higher than his previous career high. For his exploits, Altoona named Frazier its "Unsung Hero" at season's end.
Right-handed starter -- Tyler Glasnow, West Virginia (2 starts), Altoona (12 starts), Indianapolis (8 starts): A promising start for Glasnow was derailed by an ankle injury in May that caused him to miss a month. When he returned to the mound in June, the Pirates top prospect showed what all the hype was about. The 22-year-old blew through the Eastern League and was even more dominant through eight starts once he made the move to Indianapolis, posting a 2.20 ERA over 41 innings. Take out a dreadful Sept. 1 outing against Columbus, and that figure drops to 0.89. He also managed to lead the organization in strikeouts with 136, despite the missed time.
"Tyler did a lot of things very well this year, but he will be the first one to tell you that he also has a lot of room for improvement," said Broadway. "He's 6-foot-7 and can throw 100 mph, and guys don't get a lot of good swings against him. He's also improving at controlling the running game and improving his secondary pitch effectiveness."
Honorable mention: Yeudy Garcia surpassed Glasnow in several categories, including wins (12), ERA (2.10) and WHIP (1.07) over 124 1/3 innings with West Virginia in the SAL. His 112 strikeouts ranked third in the organization.
Left-handed starter -- Steven Brault, Bradenton (13 starts), Altoona (15 starts): Brault was packaged to Pittsburgh from Baltimore in the offseason for outfielder Travis Snider (who, ironically, was claimed off waivers by the Pirates several months later) and impressed his new organization right away. The 23-year-old southpaw's 125 strikeouts between Class A Advanced and Double-A were surpassed only by Glasnow, and his 2.00 ERA with the Curve would have led the Eastern League had he enough innings to qualify.
"Steven came right in and gelled well," said Broadway. "He is a very good competitor and a cerebral player. He is a guy that you enjoy going to the park to watch pitch even if he doesn't wow you with mid-90's fastballs. He's got pitch ability and knows how to use his stuff."
Reliever -- Montana DuRapau, West Virginia (11 games), Bradenton (31 games), Altoona (2 games): The 2014 32nd-round selection zoomed through the ranks in his first full season, starting in the South Atlantic League and ending in the Eastern League. Along the way, the Bethune-Cookman product converted 14 of 15 save opportunities, posted a 1.38 ERA, held opponents to a .117 average and put together an impressive 69-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio.