Spring training | Five reasons to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates

jlembo@bradenton.comFebruary 13, 2014 

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GRANT JEFFERIES/gjefferies@bradenton.com Pittsburgh Pirates players and the Pirate Parrot pause for the Canadian and American national anthems as the Pirates host the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday at McKechnie Field.

GRANT JEFFERIES — gjefferies@bradenton.com Buy Photo

BRADENTON

It isn't very hard to entice someone to take in a spring training game or two.

Pleasant weather. Boatloads of sunshine. A chance to get up close and personal with your favorite players.

But just in case you needed some prodding, here are five reasons to check out the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have called Bradenton their southern home since 1969 and will do so again beginning with Thursday's first official workout at Pirate City.

Workouts are free and open to the public.

The Pirates head to McKechnie Field beginning Feb. 25 for their intrasquad Black & Gold game and open the Grapefruit League season Feb. 26 at home against the New York Yankees.

1. THEY'RE GOOD AGAIN!

No more record-long string of losing seasons. No more lamenting Sid's Slide. (OK, you still lament a little). No more wondering what it would be like to see playoff baseball inside palatial PNC Park. The Pirates broke back into relevance last year, making the playoffs and chalking up their first winning season since 1992. Pittsburgh not only knocked off the Cincinnati Reds in a National League Wild Card playoff game, the Pirates also took eventual pennant winners, the St. Louis Cardinals, to the fifth and final game of the National League Division Series. It took more than 20 years, but Bradenton is finally home to a postseason baseball team again.

2. AWARD WINNERS

The Pirates may have fallen short in their quest to win a Central Division title last year, but they still managed to walk away with plenty of hardware. Andrew McCutchen was named the league's most valuable player, and Clint Hurdle took home Manager of the Year honors, while lefty Francisco Liriano was named the league's Comeback Player of the Year. Where will find those guys this spring? Pirate City and McKechnie Field, of course!

3. ANDREW McCUTCHEN

He alone is worth the price of admission. The Pirates' first pick in 2005, McCutchen (pictured), a Fort Meade native, has more than lived up to the hype. In five seasons, he has made three All-Star teams while winning two Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove. Oh, and did we mention he was the NL MVP last year? McCutchen is coming off a year where he flashed power (21 home runs, .508 slugging) and speed (27 steals), hit for average (.317) and produced plenty of runs (84 RBIs, 97 runs scored). Best part? He doesn't turn 28 until October, which means he is just approaching the prime of his career.

4. PROSPECTS, PROSPECTS

This time last year, Gerrit Cole was a big-armed guy with potential. Now he's considered an integral piece of the Pirates' rotation after winning 10 games and pitching to a 2.45 ERA in two playoff starts. So who's next? Well, the Pirates boast two of baseball's top prospects in Jameson Taillon, who made six starts last year with Triple-A Indianapolis, and outfielder Gregory Polanco, who began last season with the high Single-A Bradenton Marauders and wound up in Indy, as well. Taillon is considered baseball's 16th-best prospect by MLB.com while Polanco is ranked 13th, giving Bradentonians a chance to get a sneak preview of the Pirates' potential new stars.

5. OPPONENTS

Once again. plenty of star-studded teams will be sharing a diamond with the Pirates this spring. The world champion Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers will be heading to Bradenton, along with the local lads from St. Pete, the Tampa Bay Rays, and perennial fan favorites, the Philadelphia Phillies. And don't forget the annual night game, scheduled for March 20 against the neighboring Baltimore Orioles.

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