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Coming off a fourth straight last-place finish and an 18th straight season without a playoff appearance, it's the same old, same old for the Pirates, right?
Maybe, maybe not. Nobody's mistaking them for contenders or anything, but for the first time since the Brian Giles days, they have the pieces in place to make a real impact in Fantasy drafts.
It begins with Andrew McCutchen, whose long-awaited debut in 2009 was outdone only by his sophomore season, when he lived up to his power-speed potential with a 16-33 performance that put him on the cusp of elite status. Considering his advanced strike-zone judgment at age 24, he should be able to improve enough this year to put him over the edge.
He may be the team's only early-round pick for now, but Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata all have a chance of joining him in the years ahead. All three debuted last year with numbers as good as anyone could have expected, and if all three continue to develop in their roles -- Alvarez as a cleanup hitter, Walker as a No. 2 or 3 hitter and Tabata as a leadoff man -- the Pirates will have a nucleus in place to try competing for a change.
For now, they're getting by on their same old tricks, bringing in castoffs like Chris Snyder and Lyle Overbay to fill in gaps around the diamond, but at least some of the moves make sense. Lefty-killer Matt Diaz is the perfect platoon partner for slugger Garrett Jones, who showed last year he's not a complete enough hitter to play every day.
The pitching staff doesn't deserve nearly the same level of optimism, with only James McDonald and Ross Ohlendorf showing any signs of becoming long-term solutions, but at least the Pirates should have the ninth inning secured. As long as they can decide on one of Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek, their closer will matter in Fantasy.
Breakout ... Jose Tabata, OF
Tabata's rookie season couldn't have gone any better. He hit .299, including .324 over his final 76 games, and he showed the potential to steal 30 bases, swiping 19 in only 405 at-bats. The one tool he didn't put on display, as was the case throughout his minor-league career, was his home-run power. That figures to change this year, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "This year," Tabata said, showing off his bulkier frame, "my idea is to hit more home runs." Doesn't get any clearer than that, does it? He wants to hit them, he aims to hit them, and if the scouts have anything to say about it, he will hit them. And it's not like he needs to hit 20-25 to make a difference in Fantasy. With his other numbers, a mere 12-15 would put him in Shane Victorino territory. Tabata will probably go late in drafts because people see him as just another base-stealing specialist, but he has the potential to be so much more.
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Bust ... Pedro Alvarez, 3B
This isn't a condemnation of Alvarez's raw tools or long-term potential. It's mostly an attack on perception. Alvarez, for all his upside, is going off the board at a point when he couldn't possibly exceed expectations. He could meet them, maybe, but considering the shortcomings he showed as a rookie, his chances are just as good -- if not better -- of falling short. His .788 OPS was unacceptable for a power hitter, and though he hit more homers as he got more comfortable, his strikeout rate didn't improve. He's in Mark Reynolds territory, which puts him at risk of hitting .240, which of course makes him no sure bet for 30 homers. Reports of him gaining weight in the offseason aren't particularly encouraging either. Third base is weak after the top six go off the board, which could cause you to reach for the next-best thing. But keep in mind Alvarez is a full two or three steps behind that elite group.
Sleeper ... James McDonald, SP
McDonald was the No. 56 prospect according to Baseball America in 2009. It sounds crazy because he was so ineffective with the Dodgers, failing to secure a rotation spot and pitching too poorly in relief to remain in the major leagues. But something clicked for him when he went over to the Pirates in the Octavio Dotel deal last July. With an organization that was able to commit a rotation spot to him, not worrying so much about the results, he regained his confidence, pitching more or less like an ace down the stretch with a 1.80 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and 7.2 strikeouts in nine innings over his final five starts. Ah, so that's what the scouts were talking about. McDonald won't get any attention on Draft Day because he stepped up for a team no one was watching at a time when most Fantasy owners had already stopped caring, but at age 26, he's poised for a breakout.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Andrew McCutchen||CF||1||James McDonald||RH|
|2||Jose Tabata||LF||2||Paul Maholm||LH|
|3||Neil Walker||2B||3||Ross Ohlendorf||RH|
|4||Pedro Alvarez||3B||4||Kevin Correia||RH|
|5||Garrett Jones||RF||5||Scott Olsen||LH|
|6||Chris Snyder||C||Alt||Charlie Morton||RH|
|7||Lyle Overbay||1B|| |
|8||Ronny Cedeno||SS||CL||Joel Hanrahan||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||Evan Meek||RH|
|R||Ryan Doumit||C||RP||Chris Resop||RH|
|R||Matt Diaz||OF||RP||Jeff Karstens||RH|
|R||John Bowker||OF||RP||Daniel McCutchen||RH|
|1||Tony Sanchez||22||C||Class A||Double-A|
|First-rounder in '09 is polished enough to reach majors this year. He's a star if he develops power.|
|2||Jameson Taillon||19||SP||DNP -- unsigned||Class A|
|Second overall pick to Bryce Harper doesn't get hype he deserves. Pirates will finally have an ace.|
|Doesn't have upside of Taillon or Allie but showed last year he's more than a soft-tossing lefty.|
|4||Stetson Allie||20||SP||DNP -- unsigned||Class A|
|Second-rounder in 2010 has stuff of Taillon but lacks the polish. That's what the minors are for.|
|5||Starling Marte||22||OF||Class A||Double-A|
|Consistent .300 hitter has more speed than power now. Will have enough of both to start someday.|
|Best of the rest: Luis Heredia, SP; Bryan Morris, SP; Jeff Locke, SP; Josh Rodriguez, 2B; Alex Presley, OF; Pedro Ciriaco, SS; Zack Von Rosenberg, SP; Chase d'Arnaud, SS; Daniel Moskos, SP; Justin Wilson, SP; Brock Holt, SS; Gorkys Hernandez, OF; and Tim Alderson, SP.|
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