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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Pittsburgh Pirates

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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.

Pittsburgh Pirates Fantasy Outlook
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
Bullpen Breakdown
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
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2010 high Destination
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.
3 Rudy Owens 23 SP Double-A Triple-A
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.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Team outlooks in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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Player News
Twins' Kris Johnson heading to Japan next season
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:29 pm ET) The Twins have sold pitcher Kris Johnson to the Hiroshima Carp, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press

The club received "mid six figures" in the deal. Johnson received just 13 1/3 innings last season, posting a 4.73 ERA. 


Phillies sign John Hester to a minor-league deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:24 pm ET) The Phillies have signed catcher John Hester to a minor-league deal.

Hester will receive an invite to spring training, where he'll attempt to make the 25-man roster. He spent most of last season in Triple-A. 


Report: Indians likely to exercise option on Mike Aviles
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:30 pm ET) The Indians are expected to exercise their $3.5 million option on versatile veteran Mike Aviles, according to the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Aviles played outfield and all infield positions aside from first base last season in earning 344 at-bats. He finished the year with a stat line of .247/.273/.343 and tied a career-best with 14 stolen bases.

He was part of a lopsided deal before the 2013 season for Esmil Rogers in which the Indians also received emerging standout catcher Yan Gomes.


Bochy: Illness kept Tim Lincecum out of pregame ceremony
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:15 pm ET) Giants reliever Tim Lincecum declined to elaborate about his absence from pregame introductions Tuesday night, claiming he was in a back room and that he preferred not to run out in the middle of the ceremony.

Bruce Bochy, however, came up with another explanation. He said Lincecum was busy throwing up. "That's the honest truth," Bochy told the San Jose Mercury News. Lincecum, who told trainer Dave Groeschner that he was feeling ill, made it out to the bullpen after the first inning.

"He said he was good to go," Bochy said. "Timmy was available."


Pirates giving prospect Josh Bell shot at first base in AFL
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:43 pm ET) The Pirates are determined to find out if premier prospect Josh Bell can fill their longstanding hole at first base. That's why he's playing that position in the Arizona Fall League.

Bell split the first 10 games at designated hitter and first base, where he has already committed four fielding errors. His unfamiliarity with the position has proven problematic.

"Getting to feel overall comfortable has been the biggest challenge," Bell told MLB.com. "I'm sure that will come with reps. When I get more playing time, I'll be able to just run with it, react. It's definitely something different. You're a lot more active. It keeps you more in the game, always on your toes."

Bell is coming off another strong year offensively, batting .325 with nine home runs, 60 RBI and nine stolen bases at the Class A Advanced and Double-A levels combined.


C Jackson Williams hooks up with Angels
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:27 pm ET) The Angels have signed catcher and former top prospect Jackson Williams. The 28-year-old Williams finally reached the majors in late August and earned 13 at-bats with Colorado before undergoing right knee surgery.

Williams was a first-round pick of San Francisco in 2007.


Dodgers still waiting for SP Dan Haren to act on option
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:17 pm ET) The Dodgers have confirmed that veteran right-hander Dan Haren has yet to exercise his $10 million option for 2015.

Haren certainly had other concerns Wednesday, when he underwent arthrocopic surgery on his non-throwing shoulder.

The 34 year old, who did not pitch in the playoffs, finished strong in the regular season. He yielded just 10 earned runs in his last 43 innings and concluded the year at 13-11 with a 4.02 ERA and just 36 walks in 186 innings.


Twins allow reliever Jared Burton to leave for free agency
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:08 pm ET) The Twins have declined their option on veteran right-hander reliever Jared Burton, making him a free agent.

The 33-year-old Burton, who finished the year as the closer after Glen Perkins was shut down, compiled an ERA of 4.36, his worst since 2009. His control has weakened in each of his last three seasons and his strikeouts were well down in 2014.


Orioles facing dilemma in regard to future of 1B Chris Davis
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:00 pm ET) The Orioles have a difficult decision to make regarding Jekyll-Hyde first baseman Chris Davis, who followed a stunningly productive 2013 with a stunningly horrible 2014.

Davis batted .196 with 26 home runs and 72 RBI before losing the last 17 games to suspension for PED use. The team might not want to risk taking him to arbitration, however, CSNBaltimore.com has speculated. Davis earned $10.35 million this season, a raise of more than $7 million from the previous year.

Further speculation is that the Orioles will not cut his salary 20 percent because they believe $8.65 million is too rich for their blood considering his monumental struggles this year. In addition, that move would likely prompt Davis to seek arbitration.


Tigers OF Torii Hunter believes he proved his worth in 2014
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:34 pm ET) Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter appears to be leaning toward a return in 2015. That will allow to play into his 40s - he turns 40 in July.

Hunter maintained his consistency and productivity in 2014 by batting .286 with 17 home runs and 83 RBI while batting mostly second in the lineup. But his team was knocked out without winning a game in the postseason.

"Playing for a contender is very important to me," he told MLive.com. "But taking a lesser role will be hard for me when my core numbers are pretty good, not just for a guy that's 39 years old but also for a 22-year-old player. The last three or four months of the season, I played pretty good defense as well.

"I know that we all get older, but until I give you signs that I can't help a team, don't count me out just yet. I've been one of the most consistent hitters in baseball. Everybody knows what they are going to get."


 
 
 
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