Baseball winters are all about anticipation -- of the coming season, of the next wave of talent to wash ashore -- and the Pirates keep collecting props.
Latest to toss the Pittsburgh organization a bouquet is Keith Law, the ESPN Insider who ranked the Bucs' farm system No. 3 among the Majors' 30. This nod comes in the wake of MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo and Baseball America both ranking the Pirates' system No. 1, and of Jim Callis rating their 2013 Draft class as the best.
Everyone uses slightly different guidelines to come up with such ratings, but the obvious consensus is that the Pirates are in an enviable position to continue building on their 94-win breakthrough season of 2013.
In fact, what jumps out at you from Law's rankings is that the rest of his top four -- Houston, Minnesota and the Cubs -- is comprised of teams that averaged 101 losses last season. The depth of their talent bodes well for a turnaround by those franchises, but the Pirates boast the parlay of good today, better tomorrow (along with the World Series champion Red Sox, No. 5 on Law's list).
Hurdle to be honored by Florida high school
When the Merritt Island Mustangs take the field next Tuesday for their season opener, they will be running across Clint Hurdle Field.
The baseball field of the high school on Florida's eastern seaboard is being named in honor of one of its most illustrious graduates. Hurdle first cast the spotlight on Merritt Island as a player -- he was the Royals' No. 1 pick in the 1975 First-Year Player Draft -- but his eventual Major League career didn't warrant such a dedication.
Chapter two, as a manger, has gone to a higher level, and the reigning National League Manager of the Year will be honored during an hour-long ceremony on Friday night on the campus located about 130 miles northeast of Pirate City.
"This is really cool -- and another nice friendly reminder that you're getting older," Hurdle said.
The field dedication, at which Hurdle's former high school coach and local government officials will participate, will kick off a celebratory weekend that will include a Saturday charity golf tournament.
Hurdle is looking forward to having something other than beef named after him.
"The only thing I'm aware of being named for me before is a steak at Hyde Park restaurants," Hurdle said. "It's a big-old ribeye."
Schlereth, Dickerson among Bucs' non-roster invitees
In 2011, it was Jose Veras, the right-handed reliever who led the Pirates with 79 mostly solid appearances.
In 2012, it was Juan Cruz, another righty reliever who joined Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan in an effective end-game bullpen relay.
And last year, the theme continued with Vin Mazzaro, who became one of the most versatile cogs in the Bucs' lockdown bullpen.
All began as non-roster invitees to Spring Training, and in a couple of weeks, the Pirates will comb through 16 such camp guests, hoping to again unearth booty.
A first look at frontrunners to break out of the shadows of Pirate City into the limelight of Pittsburgh:
• Daniel Schlereth, LHP: The forgotten part of the December 2009 three-team blockbuster in which he accompanied Max Scherzer from Arizona to Detroit, the 27-year-old former first-round Draft pick has had a checkered big league career, but he continues to put up enticing Minor League numbers -- 1.71 ERA in 101 games, including 0.82 ERA in a dozen appearances for Triple-A Norfolk last year.
• Chris Dickerson, OF: At 31 and with only 314 games under his belt, he is joining his fifth big league club, six years after a pretty spectacular debut with the Reds (.304 average and 1.021 OPS in 2008). He is an extremely confident left-handed hitter who could figure in the right-field picture.
• Travis Ishikawa, 1B: A big league veteran from Travis Snider's Washington neck of the woods, he has bounced around a lot the past decade, but as yet another lefty hitter, will get a long look as an alternative to Andrew Lambo as Gaby Sanchez's platoon partner at first.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.