Pittsburgh has become a tougher place to get a victory in the recent seasons, and the Pirates aren’t slowing down by any means.
Andrew McCutchen has become a perennial pre-season MVP candidate, the pitching staff is slowly coming along, and players are lasting longer with the club.
For many years, the Pirates were among some of the worst franchises in the league for shipping their star players out of town.
The drastic culture change to actually keep players around and develop them has the steel city thinking that they can compete not only in the NL Central, but with the rest of the league.
McCutchen has become the face of the franchise and the type of player that makes everyone around him better.
He’s coming off a career year with a .327 batting average that produced 31 home runs.
McCutchen has emphasized expanding his game this offseason, wanting to become even more of a base-stealing threat, which has a lot of fantasy owners excited.
The only issue with the Pirates lineup after McCutchen is the fact that he doesn’t have a ton of help.
Starlin Marte could be part of the solution.
The outfielder showed up for the final 47 games of the season, proving to be a reliable leadoff hitter for the club.
He’s one of the rising stars in the league, and in fantasy circles, but won’t have the type of explosion that McCutchen has enjoyed in the past two seasons.
The Pirates pitching staff got a surprising boost from AJ Burnett after he was brought over from New York.
He was able to win 16 games for the first time in four seasons, dating back to his days with the Blue Jays.
Pittsburgh would then acquire Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros late into the season, in hopes of boosting their staff during their run for a playoff spot.
The Pirates don’t have the biggest names in the crowd, but they have just enough to be a competitive match for any major league team.
There will be a lot of questions on whether AJ Burnett can repeat his magic, can McCutchen get even better, and can some of their younger players develop in enough time to help Pittsburgh capture a playoff spot.
Let’s take a look at whether or not the Pirates are ready to take that next step…
PIRATES PROJECTED LINEUP
1. Starling Marte LF He has the ability to be a solid fantasy contributor with the ability to produce double digit home runs and stolen bases, he’ll benefit from being the leadoff hitter, and comes at a cheap price in drafts.
2. Neil Walker 2B Regressed slighty in the runs/rbi’s department, but has never been more than a second tier 2B fantasy option.
3. Andrew McCutchen CF It’s more realistic that he could hit 30+ home runs against, rather than his .327 batting AVG. He wants to steal more bags in the 2013, making him worthy of being a top 15 choice on draft day.
4. Garrett Jones 1B He’s always one of the hottest bats out of the gate, and one of the most dropped players. Home run ability, but not a reliable option in the long run.
5. Pedro Alvarez 3B He’s cheap Jose Bautista in the sense that he exploded out of no where, with 30 home runs. He’ll hit a lot of bombs, but won’t hit for average. If you can live with that, he’s worth drafting late.
6. Russell Martin C Coming off of a career-high 21 home runs, but a dismal .211 AVG. He’s not an elite catching option to draft, look elsewhere.
7. Travis Snider RF His career isn’t about to take off, just because of a change of scenery. Look elsewhere.
8. Clint Barmes SS He’s only had one good season, and that was in Colorado. He’s a decent player, but no one that you want to bet your fantasy hopes on.
1. AJ Burnett He sported his lowest ERA total in over 5 seasons, was a fantasy ace at times, but you just can’t consider him early until he can prove consistency. In 14 years, he’s won 11+ games just 5 times.
2. Wandy Rodriguez Four seasons of double digit wins, ERA under 4, and decent amount of strikeouts. Now that he doesn’t have to be the Astros’ ace, he could be a decent post draft pickup for value
3. James McDonald He’s coming off of his best season at 12-8, but he still sports a 4+ ERA. If he could continue to increase his strikeout totals and lower his ERA under 4, he could be a valuable fantasy asset at a cheap price
4. Jeff Karstens He’s an injury prone option that doesn’t offer you a lot of upside, look elsewhere.
5. Kyle McPherson Injuries kept him from making an impact in the rotation last season, keeping him in the bullpen, but should have enough of a case to make the starting rotation over Francisco Liriano. He averaged 7 strikeouts per outing and sported a 2.73 ERA in 3 starts last season.
RP-Jason Grilli The Pirates traded Joel Hanrahan for a reason, because they believe in this guy. He could become one of the next best fantasy closers, at the cheapest draft price. Pittsburgh is slowly becoming like San Diego and Oakland, in which it doesn’t matter the closer, because they’ll have plenty of opportunities by default. He has carried an ERA under 3, the past two seasons with the Pirates, and should be targeted in drafts.
He may be a 10-year veteran, but Jason Grilli is new in fantasy conversations. He’s been a setup man for the majority of his career, but will now have the opportunity to close for the Pirates. There was a reason that they shipped Joel Hanrahan to Boston this offseason, primarily because Grilli was fourth in the majors in holds last year. He’s sported an ERA under 3 the past two seasons with Pittsburgh, he can generate strikeouts, and will have plenty of save opportunities. The Pirates don’t have an overpowering offense, nor rotation, which translates great for fantasy closers. Hanrahan was one of the elite options last season, so look for Grilli to pick up where he left off for a cheap draft price.
Starlin Marte came on late last year, appearing in just 47 games, but he flashed a lot of potential for this season. He proved that he can contribute in every category, but won’t lead your team in home runs. Let’s keep in mind that Andrew McCutchen didn’t become a no-brainer option until his first full season in the majors, in his second year of action. Marte could steal 30+ bases, hit around 15-20 home runs, and rack up a good amount of runs/rbi’s being the full time leadoff hitter. Marte will be available in the final rounds of drafts, possibly even as a post-draft waiver claim, but he’s got the ability to be a solid no.3 or 4 outfielder in 2013.