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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
Eric Surkamp optioned to Triple-A Omaha
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:19 am ET) The White Sox have optioned reliever Eric Surkamp down to Triple-A Charlotte following Saturday's doubleheader against Detroit. Surkamp was called up prior to the game but did not make an appearance. However, he could be back up when rosters expand on Sept. 1.

Jed Lowrie starts rehab stint Saturday
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(1:12 am ET) Athletics shortstop Jed Lowrie began a minor-league rehab assignment with Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday. He singled in the fifth inning and played the field for seven innings. He finished 1 for 4 with a run scored. Lowrie could be back as early as Monday against Seattle.

Eric Hosmer collects two hits in first rehab game
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:11 am ET) Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer began a minor-league rehab assignment with Triple-A Omaha on Saturday. Hosmer collected a pair of hits, finishing 2 for 6 with two RBI while playing first base. He has been sidelined since July 31 with a hand issue. 

Tigers considering resting Miguel Cabrera for a stretch of games
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:01 am ET) Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told reporters that he is considering sitting first baseman Miguel Cabrera for a stretch of game to rest his sore ankle, MLB.com reports.

"I've talked to him about that," Ausmus said. "We talked about that in Detroit a couple days ago, so it's a possibility. But this thing comes and goes. Prior to today, the last couple days, he said it felt really good. And then today it flared up again. Although we discussed it, I don't know if four or five days would do anything, because sometimes he comes in from sleeping overnight and feels good."

Cabrera re-aggravated his ankle while trying to leg out a hit in the fourth inning of Game 2 of a doubleheader against the White Sox. His status remains uncertain for Sunday because the team wants to see how he feels in the morning.

Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo to share closer duties moving forward
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:56 am ET) Giants manager Bruce Bochy told reporters that relievers Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo will be sharing the closer duties for now, the Bay Area News Group reports.

Casilla coughed up a run despite getting the save Saturday night. He owns a 1.82 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP over 49 1/3 innings of relief. Romo struck out the only batter he faced before Casilla entered the game Saturday. He owns a 3.96 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP over 50 innings of work.

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by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:55 am ET) Mariners pitcher Roenis Elias was pegged with the loss Saturday night at home against the Nationals, dropping to 9-12 on the year. The left-hander permitted three runs -- two earned -- on six hits and two walks while striking out five over six innings of a 3-1 defeat.

Over his last four starts covering 20 2/3 innings, Elias has allowed six earned runs. He owns a 3.97 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP over 26 starts (149 2/3 innings). His next start will come Thursday at Texas.

Rafael Soriano picks up 30th save vs. Mariners
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:51 am ET) Nationals closer Rafael Soriano struck out one and permitted two hits in a scoreless ninth inning for the save Saturday night against the Mariners in Seattle. He has converted 30 of 35 save chances, with a 2.52 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP over 53 2/3 innings of relief.

Stephen Strasburg sets team's single-season strikeout record vs. M's
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:48 am ET) Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg dominated the Mariners in Seattle on Saturday, scattering one run on six hits over 7 2/3 innings of work to improve to 11-10 on the year. He struck out eight and did not issue a walk. Of his 95 pitches, 69 were strikes.

Strasburg also broke the team's single-season record of 207 strikeouts set by Gio Gonzalez two years ago. He owns a 3.49 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and 210:40 K:BB ratio in 183 innings. He will make his next start Friday at home against Philadelphia.

Ian Kennedy goes seven strong in no-decision
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(12:43 am ET) Padres pitcher Ian Kennedy turned in a dominant outing but was unable to factor into the decision Saturday night at home against the Dodgers. The right-hander permitted one run on four hits and three walks while striking out eight over seven innings of work.

Over his last two starts covering 12 2/3 innings, Kennedy has allowed four earned runs. He owns a 3.65 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP over 28 starts (170 innings). His next start will come Thursday at home against Arizona.

Zack Greinke gets back on track in no-decision
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(12:40 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke bounced back with a dominant outing but was unable to factor into the decision Saturday against the Padres. The right-hander permitted one earned run on four hits and two walks while striking out eight over eight innings of a 2-1 defeat.

Over his last three starts covering 20 innings, Greinke has allowed only four earned runs. He owns a 2.72 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP over 27 starts (172 1/3 innings). His next start will come Friday at home against Arizona.

 
 
 
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