Almost any time Curve manager P.J. Forbes has been asked about his team, he's gone to his stock answer.
"We're young, and that's exciting," Forbes has said repeatedly. "You want to be young in Double-A as an organization."
He's exactly right, too.
For most of the Curve's existence, the opening-day roster has included numerous players who had bounced around the minor leagues for close to a decade and had called a dozen or more cities home at some point or another.
The overwhelming majority of those guys - save for a rarity like Adam Hyzdu - had no shot of ever helping the Pirates or any other big league team. And everyone knew it.
They were placeholders, plain and simple - guys who could fill out Double-A rosters and serve as leaders while helping take pressure off the younger prospects.
But why not put pressure on those prospects? Find out if they're good enough, let them sink or swim at an advanced level and learn early on if they have what it takes.
The Pirates began to do just that last year, stacking the Curve roster with a bevy of young players in just their third or fourth pro season. Or in pitcher Justin Wilson's case, just his second year.
It not only worked, the Double-A youngsters such as Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Chase d'Arnaud, Jordy Mercer and Rudy Owens met the challenge and carried the Curve to their first Eastern League championship.
So it's time to start over this year, with a new batch of young Double-A talent (and Mercer, the only one of the above group who's returning).
Some of the newcomers have more experience than others. Outfielder Quincy Latimore, for instance, played a full season at high-A Bradenton and hit 19 homers with 100 RBIs, while center fielder Starling Marte (60 games), second baseman Brock Holt (47) and third baseman Jeremy Farrell (75) were limited by injuries there in 2010.
There's very little chance Marte, Holt and Farrell would have been allowed to start this season with the Curve in years past. But the Pirates' current front office is now showing faith in those kind of young prospects and challenging them to prove they deserve it.
Do they deserve it?
If so, this will be a good season for the Curve.
If not, there will be a lot of growing pains this summer at Blair County Ballpark.
Some predictions as opening day approaches:
Record prediction: 76-66
Playoffs: Yes, finishing second in the Western Division
They'll be better if: The Pirates leave most of the prospects in Double-A all season, like they did last year. The organization really helped out the Curve in 2010 by keeping the team together instead of sending the better players to Triple-A. If many of the top players are promoted this season, there won't be much help coming up from Single-A.
They'll be worse if: One of two things happens - either the pitching prospects who are expected to lead the way (Jeff Locke, Bryan Morris and Aaron Pribanic) all struggle, or if a large number of the young hitters get overmatched by Double-A pitching.
Biggest strength: Starting pitching, although the bullpen looks solid, too.
Biggest weakness: Inexperience in the everyday lineup.
A good sign will be: Three of these four - outfielders Starling Marte and Quincy Latimore and infielders Brock Holt and Jeremy Farrell - are productive at the plate. If that happens, the offense should be strong.
A bad sign will be: Injuries and/or early promotions hurt the depth and force the Pirates to bring up guys who aren't ready for Double-A. The Curve stayed remarkably healthy in 2010, especially the key starting pitchers and four infielders, and we saw just how good they could be when they were able to play together all year.
First player promoted to Triple-A: Reliever Anthony Claggett, the only player on the roster with major league experience. Among the younger prospects, let's go with Morris, who made 16 starts for the Curve in 2010.
First player to reach major leagues: Morris, who's on the 40-man roster. If the Pirates need a right-handed spot starter at some point, he could get the call. Locke also is on the 40-man roster and could be called upon for a spot start, even perhaps over Triple-A lefties Rudy Owens and Justin Wilson, neither of whom is on the roster.
Most exciting new player: Catcher Tony Sanchez, who is exceptional defensively and also a good hitter.
Most exciting returning player: There are only two - shortstop Jordy Mercer and first baseman Miles Durham. Mercer can hit for more power than he did last season (three homers), while Durham showed time and again how good he is in the clutch.
Most exciting new pitcher: Pribanic, who had a 2.03 ERA the second half of last season at Bradenton.
Most exciting returning pitcher: A toss-up between Locke and Morris, both of whom could be in the majors by September.
Cory Giger has covered the Curve since their inaugural 1999 season. He can be reached at 949-7031 and email@example.com.