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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
Nationals' Yunel Escobar (groin) out of lineup Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:31 am ET) Nationals third baseman Yunel Escobar is not in the lineup Sunday for a second straight day while nursing a groin injury.

Escobar started each of the team's first 11 games at third base, filling in for the injured Anthony Rendon, before sitting out Saturday with the injury. Danny Espinosa will draw a second straight start at third base against the Phillies.

The Nationals are heavy home favorites (-225) Sunday.


Nationals activate Denard Span, option Michael Taylor
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:28 am ET) The Nationals activated center fielder Denard Span from the 15-day disabled list Sunday and optioned outfielder Michael Taylor to Triple-A Syracuse.

Span had to open the season on the disabled list after underdoing surgery on his core muscle in March. He was able to play in back-to-back games Thursday and Friday before taking Saturday off. He's atop the lineup for Nationals in Sunday's game against the Phillies.

Taylor performed well while filling in as the team's center fielder. He hit .271/.314/.500 with two home runs, eight RBI and two stolen bases in 48 at-bats. He'll return to Syracuse where he can play every day, but he'll likely be back with the Nationals the next time an outfielder is out for an extended period with an injury.


Red Sox taking advantage of Brock Holt's versatility
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(10:21 am ET) Red Sox utility man Brock Holt has played four different positions and hit in three different spots in the batting order. 

The constant change doesn't seem to be having a negative impact. Holt is hitting .579 in 19 at bats this season. He's played second, third, short and center, and he's batted first, eighth and ninth in the lineup. 

"That’s his role,” manager John Farrell said. “We try to the best of our abilities (to get play him), and as frequently as possible. We also have a very deep roster, so he accepts his role, he excels at it, and the versatility he provides is a real good fit."


Ryan Goins gets start at short for Blue Jays
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(10:14 am ET) With Jose Reyes out for the weekend with a rib injury, Ryan Goins got the start for the Blue Jays at shortstop on Sunday.

Goins will bat ninth for the game against Atlanta. 


Mets' Michael Cuddyer, Wilmer Flores out of lineup Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:11 am ET) Mets left fielder Michael Cuddyer and shortstop Wilmer Flores are not in the starting lineup for Sunday's matchup with the Marlins.

It's just the second time on the bench this season for both players. Kirk Nieuwenhuis will bat seventh and play left field, while Ruben Tejada will bat eighth and play shortstop.

The Mets are heavy favorites (-200) against the Marlins Sunday.


Braves' Freddie Freeman serving as DH Sunday vs. Blue Jays
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:06 am ET) Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman is serving as the team's designated hitter for Sunday's series finale against the Blue Jays in Toronto.

The Braves have mixed and matched at designated hitter during the series in Toronto, using Chris Johnson and Nick Markakis there in the team's first two days. Catcher Christian Bethancourt is also back in the lineup Sunday after sitting out the team's first two games of the series.

The Braves are underdogs (+135) against the Blue Jays Sunday.


Rays' Kevin Kiermaier (illness) remains out of lineup Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:01 am ET) Rays center fiedler Kevin Kiermaier is out of the lineup for a second straight game Sunday against the Yankees.

Kiermaier missed Saturday due to illness and will not be in the starting lineup against a right-handed starter for the second time this season Sunday. With Kiermaier sidelined, Desmond Jennings slides back to center field Sunday, with Brandon Guyer manning left.

The Rays are home underdogs (+112) against the Yankees Sunday.


Blue Jays add Jeff Francis, option Colt Hynes
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:54 am ET) The Blue Jays selected the contract of pitcher Jeff Francis Sunday while optioning pitcher Colt Hynes to Triple-A Buffalo.

A 10-year major-league veteran, Francis tossed five shutout innings in his only start with Triple-A Buffalo, striking out five while allowing two hits and two walks. Hynes gave up two hits without recording an out Saturday and departs with a 6.00 ERA and 4:2 K:BB ratio in three innings.


Tigers' Castellanos in lineup, Avila misses second straight start
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:49 am ET) Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos is back in the starting lineup after serving as a pinch-hitter Saturday, while catcher Alex Avila is not in the starting lineup for a second straight day.

Castellanos managed an RBI single in his only at-bat Saturday to extend his hitting streak to six games. He has hit .282/.341/.462 with one home run and four RBI in 39 at-bats.

Avila entered Saturday's blowout loss in the seventh inning to play three innings at first base, just his second career appearance at the position. He has hit .190/.414/.333 in 21 at-bats. James McCann, who is 2 for 15 after going hitless in four at-bats Saturday, is behind the plate for a second straight game.

The Tigers are favorites (-135) against the White Sox Sunday, per VegasInsider.com.


Cubs' Mike Olt (wrist) expected to begin rehab in 3-4 weeks
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:38 am ET) Cubs third baseman Mike Olt (wrist) said Saturday he expects to begin rehab in three-to-four weeks, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Olt is in a cast after suffering a hairline fracture in his wrist, but he was able to avoid any ligament damage. He's expected to eventually return in a reserve role provided rookie Kris Bryant can remain healthy.


 
 
 
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