It's the most wonderful time of the year, as spring training is in full swing and young prospects are getting their chances to wow managers in an effort to make the 2014 Opening Day roster for their teams.
For Pittsburgh Pirates' manager Clint Hurdle, there will be many difficult decisions to make when it comes time for the final cuts. Here is a look at the top performers for the Pirates so far this spring.
After winning the 2013 National League Most Valuable Player award, center fielder Andrew McCutchen has gotten right back at it in spring training.
Arguably the best center fielder in the National League, the Pirates need McCutchen to perform if they want to contend for another playoff spot in 2014.
This spring, McCutchen is batting .526 with two home runs in 19 at bats. While it is still early, he seems to be primed for another huge season for the Pirates in 2014.
In 94 career games, Daniel Schlereth has pitched to a 4.35 ERA with a 1.57 WHIP. He hasn't pitched in the majors since 2012, but Schlereth is making his case to earn a spot in the bullpen this spring.
Schlereth has made five appearances this spring for the Pirates, striking out four batters in five innings pitched and having yet to allow a run.
This is a drastic improvement from his 2013 spring training with the Baltimore Orioles, when he let up eight earned runs in seven innings pitched.
Every team needs a solid bullpen to succeed, and Schlereth is making a strong impression on Hurdle as the beginning of the regular season nears. If he continues to do well, there is no reason to believe Schlereth won't be given another shot in the major leagues this season.
Formally a bench player for the Baltimore Orioles, Chris Dickerson batted just .238 in 58 games in 2013.
This spring, he has been very effective with the bat, earning an average of .429 in 21 at-bats. In six major league seasons, Dickerson has played in 314 games. So, he has plenty of experience as a bench player at the major league level.
The Pirates would love for Dickerson to continue to produce into the regular season, as it would give the team added depth in the outfield. He has shown the ability to play both corner outfield positions, which is a great benefit to the organization, as he could fill in for left fielder Starling Marte or right fielder Jose Tabata whenever they need rest.
Look for Dickerson to stay sharp, as he has a real shot at being a viable option for the Pirates in the outfield in 2014.
In 2011, lefty Adam Wilk made his major league debut with the Detroit Tigers. Over the next two seasons, he would go on to make eight appearances for Detroit, owning an ERA of 6.66.
This spring, Wilk has looked sharp on the mound, and while a spot in the rotation isn't likely, the Pirates could use Wilk in the bullpen.
Wilk has pitched seven innings this spring, with an ERA of 1.29 and a WHIP of only 0.86. He also picked up a save in his only attempt at one this spring, as he has displayed an ability to get batters out.
Perhaps Wilk was simply called up too early in 2011, but now he seems primed to push for a roster spot.
Pittsburgh's bullpen has looked impressive early on, and if Wilk continues to succeed, he deserves a spot on the roster. He can possibly serve as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen in 2014.
The trend of up-and-coming prospects is carrying in the Pirates organization this spring, as we have seen the emergence of bright young players, as well as the continued development of superstars such as McCutchen.
It is easy to see that the Pirates are a complete team, and they look like a legitimate contender again this season in the National League Central Division.
*Statistics Courtesy of MLB.com
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