Thanks to aggressive drafting and sound developing throughout the organization, the Pirates boast one of the better systems in the minors, including two elite right-handed pitchers in Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.
The Pirates finished June with a 42-35 record, just one game behind the Cincinnati Reds for first place in the National League Central.
Much of their success so far in 2012 can be credited to former draftees who have progressed through the system like Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen.
If the Pirates maintain their position in the playoff race through the second half of the season, we could see several current minor leaguers playing a big role in September.
Here is a look at how the Pirates four full-season minor league teams have fared through the first three months of the season.
51-31 (first in the International League West Division)
Jeff Clement, 1B—.297/.370/.528, 10 HR, 39 RBI (Age: 28)
It has been a long and difficult journey for Jeff Clement since he was drafted third overall in the 2005 MLB draft as a catcher out from the University of Southern California. While he has yet to figure it out at the major league level, Clement put together a very nice first half of the season for Indianapolis.
The team leader in batting average, home runs and slugging percentage, Clement could provide the Pirates with a valuable power bat off the bench for the playoff stretch.
Justin Wilson, LHP—6-4, 3.57 ERA, 85.2 IP, 62 H, 40 BB, 89 K (Age: 24)
This award could have gone to a number of pitchers, including Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, and Rick VandenHurk—all are having phenomenal seasons.
Justin Wilson gets the nod because he owns the best single-game performance of the year.
On April 29 against the Durham Bulls Wilson struck out nine batters over 7.1 innings, combining with two relievers on a no-hitter.
Wilson gets very good movement on his pitches, which has resulted in him leading the Indians in strikeouts with 89.
Wilson, Owens and Locke all appear to be ready for a major league call-up, so don't be surprised to see one of them in Pittsburgh if a starter goes down.
Player to Watch
Starling Marte, OF—.284/.343/.483, 8 HR, 47 RBI, 16 SB (Age: 23)
It took a little while for Starling Marte to figure out Triple-A pitching, but he has been tearing up the International League in June.
A five-tool player in the outfield for Indianapolis, Marte is one of the best all-around players in the minors. He was named the No. 4 prospect in the Pirates system by Baseball America and he is very close to becoming a permanent fixture in the PNC Park outfield.
Keep a close eye on Starling Marte's performance during the second half of the year as he could be a key call-up in September for the Buccos.
38-41 (fifth place in the Eastern League Western Division)
Brock Holt, SS—.322/.384/.442, 1 HR, 33 RBI 6 SB (Age: 24)
With prospects Chase d'Arnaud and Jordy Mercer (recently called up to the majors) crowding the shortstop position at Indianapolis, the Pirates decided to send Brock Holt back to Altoona.
The two-time Eastern League All-Star picked up right where he left off, and his .322 batting average is good for fourth among league leaders.
While Holt doesn't offer much in the power or base-stealing departments, he has an excellent approach at the plate and is a solid player defensively.
Despite the crowded infield in Triple-A, Brock Holt is making it very difficult for the Pirates to keep him back in Double-A.
Brandon Cumpton, RHP—8-6, 3.21 ERA, 92.2 IP, 76 H, 23 BB, 59 K (Age: 23)
A Georgia Tech product drafted in 2010, Brandon Cumpton has used his low-90s fastball and above-average curve to make life difficult on hitters so far this year.
Cumpton has the best ERA among Curve starters and was recently named to the Eastern League All-Star game.
While it remains to be seen if Cumpton has the stuff to make it in the majors as a starter, he could be very effective as a reliever for the Pirates some time in the near future.
Player to Watch
Gerrit Cole, RHP—1-1, 7.50 ERA, 6.0 IP, 10 H, 0 BB, 8 K (Age: 21)
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft, Gerrit Cole was very good in his first start for the Curve but got hit in the face by a line drive in his second start and left after one difficult inning.
Prior to his promotion to Altoona, Cole was dominant at High-A Bradenton, posting a 2.55 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 67 innings pitched.
Cole has ace potential with a power arsenal that includes a fastball that can reach 100 MPH. Who knows, if Cole has a stellar second half and impresses in spring training, we could see him in the Pirates' 2013 starting rotation.
34-35 (5-4 in the second half, in second place in the Florida State League South Division)
Alex Dickerson, 1B—.285/.352/.419, 6 HR, 48 RBI (Age: 22)
A 2011 third-round draft pick out of Indiana University, Dickerson has been one of the few bright spots on a Bradenton team that doesn't have much offensive talent.
The team leader in batting average and runs batted in, Dickerson was rated as the ninth-best first base prospect in the minors by MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo at the beginning of the year.
The Pirates have used a multitude of players at first base this season, and Alex Dickerson appears to be the best option for the future. If all goes well the 22-year-old could make his major league debut early in the 2014 season.
Jameson Taillon, RHP—5-6, 4.18 ERA, 79.2 IP, 72 H, 22 BB, 71 K (Age: 20)
Although he has struggled since his dominant month of April, Jameson Taillon is easily the most reliable pitcher left after Gerrit Cole's promotion.
The No. 2 overall pick in 2010, Taillon has been hurt by the home-run ball of late, but he still shows an excellent BB/K ratio.
Taillon is another right-hander with ace potential as he has an upper-90s fastball and one of the best curves in the entire minor leagues.
Expect Jameson Taillon to turn things around in the second half and get back to pitching like one of the best prospects in baseball.
Player To Watch
Colton Cain, LHP—2-5, 4.85 ERA, 55.2 IP, 52 H, 18 BB, 42 K (Age: 21)
Rated the No. 16 prospect in the Pirates system by Jonathan Mayo, Cain has also struggled through the first half of 2012.
However, Cain has shown some progress in his previous three starts, producing a 2.12 ERA with 14 strikeouts and just four walks in 17 innings.
With continued success in the second half of the season, Colton Cain could join top prospect Gerrit Cole in Altoona.
28-52 (5-5 in second half, tied for third in South Atlantic League Northern Division)
Alen Hanson, SS—.331/.396/.586, 9 3B, 12 HR, 42 RBI, 20 SB (Age: 19)
One of the top hitters in the minor leagues this season, Alen Hanson has shot up prospect boards all over the place.
Just 19-years-old, the switch-hitting shortstop leads the Power in nearly every offensive category and was named a South Atlantic League All-Star.
Hanson just continues to crush Low-A pitchers, and there is not much he has left to prove in West Virginia. The Pirates new top shortstop prospect should be promoted to Bradenton sooner rather than later.
Robby Rowland, RHP—4-1, 2.84 ERA, 38.0 IP, 38 H, 9 BB, 20 K (Age: 20)
A former third-round pick in 2010 by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Robby Rowland has been great with West Virginia since coming over in a offseason trade.
Rowland compliments his low-90s fastball with a variety of pitches, and he has commanded all of his offerings so far in 2012.
At just 20-years-old, Rowland has a long way to go before he reaches the majors, but if he continues his success in the second half he could move way up the Pirates top-prospect list.
Player to Watch
Josh Bell, OF—.274/.288/.403, 1 HR, 11 RBI (Age: 19)
Josh Bell was considered to be unsignable when the Pirates drafted him in 2011, but—$5 million later—he is one of the top outfield prospects in the system.
Unfortunately, Bell was hurt after just 15 games for West Virginia and has been out since April after having knee surgery.
While Bell may be a little rusty when he makes his return some time later this season, he is still a player to keep your eye on.
A switch-hitter with plus-power from both sides of the plate, Josh Bell is the best power prospect the Pirates have and is a big piece in the future of the organization.