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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
Jorge De La Rosa strikes out seven vs. Cubs Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:01 am ET) Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa wasn't a factor in Tuesday's decision after giving up three earned runs on six hits and one walk in six innings and striking out seven in his team's extra-innings game against the Cubs.

De La Rosa was staked to a 3-0 lead after the top of the first inning but gave one back in the bottom half of the first. He then surrendered a two-run home run in the fourth inning and left with the game tied. De La Rosa owns a 4.20 ERA and 93:47 K:BB ratio in 122 innings. He's scheduled to face the Tigers Sunday.


Edwin Jackson lasts four innings in no-decision Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:01 am ET) Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson wasn't a factor in the decision Tuesday, giving up three earned runs on six hits and three walks in four innings and striking out four in his team's extra-innings game against the Rockies.

Jackson gave up all three runs in the first inning, but he was inefficient throughout, needing a whopping 105 pitches to get through his four-inning start. He owns a 5.79 ERA and 108:53 K:BB ratio in 119 2/3 innings. Jackson is scheduled to face the Dodgers Sunday.


Kenley Jansen picks up four-out save vs. Braves
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:00 am ET) Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen earned his 31st save Tuesday by recording the final four outs of his team's 8-4 win over the Braves.

Jansen came on with two on and two outs in the top of eighth inning and retired the first batter he faced on just two pitches. His offense extended the lead in the bottom of the eighth, and Jansen took it from there, striking out two batters in the ninth while allowing one hit and one walk. He owns a 3.14 ERA and 68:13 K:BB ratio in 43 innings.


Anthony Varvaro takes loss vs. Dodgers Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:00 am ET) Braves pitcher Anthony Varvaro was stuck with a loss Tuesday after giving up three earned runs on four hits in one inning of action while striking out one in his team's 8-4 defeat against the Dodgers.

Varvaro (3-3) gave up a pair of singles to begin the bottom of the seventh and saw the first run cross the plate on the second out of the inning. He then surrendered a two-run home run, which was just his third homer allowed this season. Varvaro owns a 2.83 ERA and 41:9 K:BB ratio in 41 1/3 innings.


Aaron Harang surrenders four runs vs. Dodgers Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:59 am ET) Braves pitcher Aaron Harang didn't factor into Tuesday's decision, giving up four earned runs on nine hits and one walk in six innings and striking out three in his team's 8-4 loss to the Dodgers.

Harang gave up a two-run home run in the second inning to fall behind, then surrendered two more runs in the fifth to lose his lead. He had delivered six straight quality starts before failing to do so Tuesday. Harang owns a 3.43 ERA and 107:50 K:BB ratio in 136 1/3 innings. He's scheduled to face the Padres Sunday.


Brandon League earns win vs. Braves Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:59 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Brandon League picked up a win Tuesday, giving up one hit and one walk in one scoreless inning of work in his team's 8-4 victory over the Braves.

League (2-2) threw just nine of his 19 pitches for strikes in the seventh inning, but he was able to keep the game tied before the Dodgers scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh. He owns a 1.97 ERA and 26:17 K:BB ratio in 45 2/3 innings.


Josh Beckett pulled in fifth inning vs. Braves Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:58 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett couldn't make it out of the fifth inning in a no-decision Tuesday, giving up four earned runs on nine hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings and striking out two in his team's 8-4 win over the Braves.

Considering the number of baserunners the Braves had against Beckett, he's lucky the damage was limited to just four runs. He threw 105 pitches in the short outing before being removed. Beckett owns a 2.74 ERA and 101:36 K:BB ratio in 111 2/3 innings. He's set to take on the Cubs Sunday.


Joaquin Benoit picks up third save Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:38 am ET) Padres closer Joaquin Benoit recorded his third save Tuesday, striking out two and hitting one batter in a scoreless ninth inning to finish off his team's 3-1 win over the Cardinals.

Benoit hasn't had the best July, taking two losses during a three-game stretch in the middle of the month, but he hasn't blown a save opportunity since inheriting the job. He owns a 1.88 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 51:13 K:BB ratio in 43 innings.


Lance Lynn strikes out six in loss vs. Padres
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:34 am ET) Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn was hung with a loss Tuesday after giving up two runs (one earned) on four hits and three walks in six innings and striking out six in his team's 3-1 defeat against the Padres.

Lynn (11-8) needed 117 pitches to get through six innings one start after throwing 118 pitches against the Rays. He's topped 100 pitches in each of his last five games and 110 pitches four times during his five July starts. Lynn owns a 2.98 ERA and 123:52 K:BB ratio in 133 innings. He's slated to face the Brewers Sunday.


Tyson Ross walks five in win vs. Cardinals Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:33 am ET) Padres pitcher Tyson Ross picked up a win Tuesday, giving up just one earned run on four hits and five walks while striking out seven in his team's 3-1 victory over the Cardinals.

Ross (10-10) has been excellent in July despite the abundance of free passes Tuesday. He has given up just five earned runs in 41 innings over six starts while striking out 48 batters in July. Ross owns a 2.60 ERA and 150:52 K:BB ratio in 148 2/3 innings. He's scheduled to face the Braves Sunday.


 
 
 
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