It was troubling typing in all the career hitting statistics for the Mirror's annual Curve tab last week because the numbers gave the impression we'd be watching some anemic offense this season.
Then the Pirates made three key moves that changed the entire outlook for the team.
Bucs officials gave little indication that third baseman Adalberto Santos, outfielder Andrew Lambo and first baseman Matt Curry would be back with the Curve this year, but adding those three proven Double-A hitters drastically changes the team's potential.
How much? Well, Curry is slated to hit third in the order, Lambo in the cleanup spot and Santos fifth.
Take away that heart of the order and it's painful to think of what this team might have looked like. With those three, though, and with what appears to be a solid pitching staff, the Curve now look like a competitive team that should be in line for a solid season.
There isn't much power on the club, so don't expect a lot of slugfests. But new manager Carlos Garcia should have enough mix of steady hitters and speed in the order for the offense to be, while not great, at least effective.
There aren't any can't-miss prospects in the everyday lineup, and there's no doubt the lack of offensive firepower currently in Double-A will be a concern in the big leagues for the Pirates down the road. But led by the three hitters in the middle, the Curve offense does appear to be good enough to succeed at the Double-A level.
Some predictions for the season:
Record prediction: 69-73. I was close last year, predicting 74-68 while the team finished 72-70. There could be trouble if one or more of the three key hitters mentioned above gets promoted to Triple-A early, which is a possibility. There's not much quality offensive depth in the entire organization, so while the team that's starting the season in Altoona looks OK, that's no indication the team that finishes the season here will be.
They'll be better if: The newcomers on the offense, such as Mel Rojas Jr. at the top of the order, Gift Ngoepe and Carlos Paulino, figure out and adjust to Double-A in a hurry. Second baseman Jarek Cunningham also is capable of putting up much better numbers than he did a year ago (.217, six homers, 45 RBIs in 105 games).
They'll be worse if: The pitching staff struggles. That's true with any baseball team, but the Curve need big years from the likes of Jameson Taillon, Brandon Cumpton and Stolmy Pimentel in the rotation and steady work from the bullpen.
Biggest strength: Starting rotation
Biggest weakness: Very little power on offense
A good sign will be: Seeing Taillon get off to a great start. He's the real deal, and the Pirates need him to continue to develop at a good pace and not encounter any major speedbumps that will slow his path to the majors.
A bad sign will be: Anything going wrong with Taillon, far and away the best prospect on the team and a vital part of the Pirates' future.
First player promoted to Triple-A: Lambo. He's in his sixth Double-A season, and if he gets off to a good start, there will be no reason to keep him with the Curve.
First player to reach major leagues: Taillon
Most exciting new player: Ngoepe hasn't hit much in his career but is a gifted defensive shortstop.
Most exciting returning player: Curry, who led the Curve in RBIs last season, is a very good and productive Double-A hitter.
Most exciting new pitcher: Pimentel is a member of the Pirates' 40-man roster who spent the past two seasons in Double-A with Portland, so he should understand what it takes to succeed in the Eastern League.
Most exciting returning pitcher: Taillon is the easy answer, but besides him, Cumpton proved to be a good young pitcher with major league potential by winning 12 games last year.
Cory Giger has covered the Curve since their inaugural 1999 season. He can be reached at 949-7031 and on Twitter @CoryGiger.