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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Pittsburgh Pirates

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For a time it appeared that maybe, just maybe, the Pirates' long streak of futility would end in 2011.

They were atop the NL Central as late as July 25 with a record that was six games above .500. It was too good to be true, though, as the Pirates finished 72-90, completing their 19th straight season with a losing record.

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Still, it was the first time since 2004 that Pittsburgh notched more than 70 wins, and there were a few favorable developments. Andrew McCutchen added 20-homer power to his arsenal and cemented his status as a top 10 Fantasy outfielder. Joel Hanrahan also emerged as a top closer, and the starting rotation featured three pitchers with sub-4.00 ERAs.

There were still more disappointments than highlights, as Jose Tabata missed time with injuries, Pedro Alvarez had the mother of all sophomore slumps, and the team went through catchers like Spinal Tap drummers. Tabata and Alvarez will return in 2012, offering the promise of improvement, and should they falter, offseason acquisitions Nate McLouth and Casey McGehee will be around to plug the holes they would leave in the lineup. The Pirates also signed free agents Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas to solidify the shortstop and catcher positions, respectively.

The pitching staff will look largely the same, though one free-agent lefty -- Erik Bedard -- will take the place of another -- Paul Maholm. Two of the three starters with sub-4.00 ERAs, Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton, will head up the rotation (Maholm was the third), and Hanrahan will once again be the team's closer.

While the Pirates should enter 2012 a little stronger and deeper than were a year ago, their fans may have to wait yet another year for a winning record. The good news is that help is on the way, as the farm system offers potential reinforcements for the rotation (Brad Lincoln, Jeff Locke, Gerrit Cole, Rudy Owens) and the outfield (Starling Marte, Robert Grossman) for the not-too-distant future. It's a slow climb, but the Pirates finally appear headed in the right direction.

Breakout ... Jose Tabata, OF

Though Tabata is a breakout candidate, he's one with an asterisk, as he had problems staying healthy last season. That said, he has the potential to steal 30 bases if he plays a full season. Also, Tabata virtually never pops out, so seasons like his last one, in which he batted just .266, should be the exception. While he may never be a 20-homer threat, Tabata's minor league history suggests that there is a little more thump in his bat than what he has shown in his first two seasons. While Tabata is something of an injury risk, he is expected to be ready for opening day, and he should produce like a No. 4 OF in mixed leagues.

One-hit wonder ... Jeff Karstens, SP

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Karstens led the Pirates' starters with a 3.38 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 2011, making him the team's de facto ace. He also posted 16 quality starts in 26 tries, including a streak of nine in a row, which endeared him to owners in Head-to-Head leagues. To be sure, Karstens was a better pitcher last year than he had been in the past, and specifically, he raised his ground ball rate, which led to fewer long balls. However, Karstens still gives up a lot of dingers, so it's unlikely that he can manage to strand 78 percent of his baserunners again this year. While owners may be able to count on Karstens for a low WHIP, look for his ERA to sail north of 4.00, making him a far less attractive option for mixed leagues.

Injury risk sleeper ... Erik Bedard, SP

Bedard, who is a perennial injury risk, missed time again in 2011 due to injuries, but his surgically-repaired left shoulder held up fine. Knee and lat injuries limited the 32-year-old to 24 starts, but he was largely effective in his turns in the rotation. Bedard can still rack up a strikeout per inning, and he will get the benefit of home games at pitcher-friendly PNC Park. Because of his injury history, Bedard can be passed over until the later rounds of mixed league drafts, but if he pitches even as much as he did last year, he could pay a nice dividend to his owners.

2012 Pittsburgh Pirates Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Jose Tabata RF 1 Jeff Karstens RH
2 Alex Presley LF 2 Charlie Morton RH
3 Andrew McCutchen CF 3 Erik Bedard LH
4 Neil Walker 2B 4 James McDonald RH
5 Garrett Jones 1B 5 Kevin Correia RH
6 Pedro Alvarez 3B Alt Brad Lincoln RH
7 Clint Barmes SS
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Rod Barajas C CL Joel Hanrahan RH
Top bench options SU Evan Meek RH
R Casey McGehee 3B RP Jason Grilli RH
R Nate McLouth OF RP Chris Resop RH
R Michael McKenry C RP Daniel Moskos LH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2011 high Destination
1 Gerrit Cole 21 SP DNP Class A
For the most part, Cole looked sharp in the Arizona Fall League, which marked his pro debut. Could be a late-season callup, and surely a top keeper league target.
2 Jameson Taillon 20 SP Class A Class A
The organization is being conservative with his innings and promotions, so Taillon is not on the fast track. Still deserves to be drafted in long-term keeper leagues.
3 Josh Bell 19 OF DNP Class A
Bell is a switch hitter with great power potential. He is still a ways off from the majors and will make his pro debut this spring.
4 Jeff Locke 24 SP Majors Triple-A
The southpaw has strong command, though it didn't show in his brief big league debut last fall. Likely to start in the minors, Locke could settle into the Bucs' rotation sometime this year.
5 Starling Marte 23 OF Double-A Triple-A
The speedster is starting to develop some power, but could stand to be more patient. Marte is likely to debut sometime in 2012, but fellow prospect Robert Grossman just might leapfrog over him.
Best of the rest: Robert Grossman, OF; Luis Heredia, SP; Kyle McPherson, SP; Tony Sanchez, C; Stetson Allie, SP; Nick Kingham, SP; Alex Dickerson, 1B; Bryan Morris, RP; Zack Von Rosenberg, SP; Zach Dodson, SP; Rudy Owens, SP; Justin Wilson, SP; Clay Holmes, SP; Jose Osuna, OF; Jordy Mercer, SS; Gorkys Hernandez, OF; Duke Welker, RP.
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Player News
Jon Singleton not next in line -- yet
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9:51 pm ET) The Astros have another slugging prospect in Triple-A Oklahoma City, but Jon Singleton probably won't be following in George Springer's footsteps just yet. General manager Jeff Luhnow told MLB.com Wednesday he still wants to see Singleton prove himself at the Triple-A level like Springer did.

"We're happy that Singleton is off to a good start," Luhnow said. "He does not have the Triple-A track record that Springer has yet. We feel he needs to develop that track record. We're always going to be in a position where our fans want our top prospects to come up here sooner than we think they're ready to come up here."

Singleton has opened his season with four home runs and 16 RBI while hitting .333 in 12 games for Oklahoma City. Singleton hit just .220/.340/.347 at Triple-A last season, however. 


Evan Gattis provides sole offense in 1-0 win Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:44 pm ET) Braves catcher Evan Gattis was the only player to get on the scoreboard Wednesday, going 4 for 4 with a solo home run in his team's 1-0 win over the Phillies.

Gattis' home run was the only extra-base hit on either side in the pitchers' duel. His big effort follows up a two-homer performance against the Phillies in his previous game, and he's 9 for 13 in his last three games. Gattis has hit .378/.378/.757 with four home runs and seven RBI in 37 at-bats.


Julio Teheran excels in complete-game shutout Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:42 pm ET) Braves pitcher Julio Teheran delivered a complete-game shutout in his team's 1-0 win over the Phillies Wednesday, giving up just three hits in nine innings while striking out four and walking none.

Teheran (2-1) gave up a one-out single in the ninth inning, and the runner stole second during a 3-0 count with two outs, but the Braves pitcher was able to induce a ground ball for the final out. He threw 75 strikes and 115 pitches in the gem. Teheran owns a 1.93 ERA and 13:6 K:BB ratio in 28 innings. He'll face the Marlins Monday in his next start.


Cliff Lee strikes out 13 in complete-game loss Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:38 pm ET) Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee surrendered just one earned run on 11 hits and one walk in nine innings while striking out 13 but took the complete-game loss as he was outdueled by Julio Teheran in the Braves' 1-0 win Wednesday.

Lee (2-2) has been ratcheting up his strikeout rate in each successive start this season, culminating in his excellent performance Wednesday in which he threw 128 pitches (85 strikes). He's just 1-2 in his last three starts despite posting quality starts in each game. Lee owns a 4.00 ERA and elite 28:2 K:BB ratio in 27 innings. He'll face the Dodgers Monday or Tuesday.


Nationals lay out plan for Doug Fister
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9:22 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Doug Fister will continue his slow recovery from a lat injury Thursday when he pitches two innings in an extend spring training game. Manager Matt Williams laid out the team's methodical plan for the next few steps of Fister's recovery Wednesday.

"Plan right now is we'll wait five days," Williams said. "After that he'll do that again in extended increased to three innings depending on workload, and then we'll send him out for a four-inning or five-inning rehab start. He should be good to go if all goes well. That's the tentative plan. It's not written in stone because you don't know how he's going to feel. It may even turn bigger than that depending on how it goes."

Fister has yet to pitch this season due to the injury, which landed him on the disabled list to open the season. 


Scott Hairston still not swinging as part of recovery
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9:18 pm ET) Nationals outfielder Scott Hairston is making progress in his recovery from a strained left oblique, but has yet to pick up a bat. Manager Matt Williams told MLB.com Hairston is progressing, but still does not have a timeline as the team tries to make sure he does not suffer any setbacks.

"He's progressing into rigorous activity," Williams said. "Those things are tough. You've got to make sure you're really careful because if you have an additional setback it takes a long time."


Rafael Furcal could move up to Double-A soon
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9:01 pm ET) Marlins infielder Rafael Furcal continues to make progress in his recovery from a left hamstring strain, and should move up a level in his rehab assignment soon.

According to MLB.com, Furcal is expected to play Friday and Saturday for Class A Jupiter, before getting Sunday off. If he does not experience any setbacks in his recovery, he could move up to Double-A Jacksonville early next week. 


MRI reveals minor hamstring injury for Juan Lagares
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:35 pm ET) Mets outfielder Juan Lagares will need one-to-two weeks to recover from a minor hamstring pull, the Star-Ledger reports.

"It's not that bad," Lagares said.

An MRI on the injured hamstring revealed that his injury is relatively minor, and Lagares is set to begin undergoing treatment. He was placed on the disabled list Tuesday.


Scott Kazmir does flat-ground work Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:28 pm ET) Athletics pitcher Scott Kazmir did his regular flat-ground work Wednesday and is ready to make his regularly scheduled start Saturday, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Kazmir left his previous start due to tightness in his triceps muscle, but the issue was minor and he'll remain on his regular pitching schedule. He's 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA through three starts.


Chad Billingsley dealing with tendinitis
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:23 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley is dealing with tendinitis in his elbow rather than any new ligament damage, MLB.com reports.

Billinsgley was shut down prematurely in Tuesday's bullpen session with discomfort in the elbow, but it appears he's avoided re-injuring himself in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. The team will continue to move slowly with the pitcher.


 
 
 
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