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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
David Hale takes loss Wednesday vs. Dodgers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:47 am ET) Braves pitcher David Hale was stuck with a loss Wednesday, giving up one earned run on three hits in one-plus innings in his team's 3-2 defeat against the Dodgers.

Hale (3-3) gave up a two-out single in the ninth inning but was able to escape the frame unscatched. He then surrendered a leadoff single in the 10th and watched the runner move into scoring position on a wild pitch. The next batter delivered a walkoff single to end the game. Hale owns a 2.76 ERA and 31:26 K:BB ratio in 65 1/3 innings.


J.P. Howell picks up win Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:45 am ET) Dodgers pitcher J.P. Howell walked two batters and struck out one while tossing a scoreless inning and earning a win in his team's 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Braves.

Howell (3-3) had issued just one walk in July coming into Wednesday, though it came one day earlier. He was able to work around his free passes to deliver a scoreless 10th inning before his team picked up a walkoff win in the bottom half of the inning. Howell owns a 1.22 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 36:18 K:BB ratio in 37 1/3 innings.


Alex Wood strikes out eight vs. Dodgers Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:41 am ET) Braves pitcher Alex Wood didn't factor into Wednesday's decision after giving up one earned run on six hits and two walks in seven innings and striking out eight in his team's 3-2 loss to the Dodgers.

Wood surrendered a solo home run in the second to tie the game 1-1, and it turned into a pitchers' duel after that. It was an excellent rebound effort after giving up 12 hits and five runs in his last outing. Wood owns a 3.30 ERA and 102:26 K:BB ratio in 103 2.3 innings. He's scheduled to face the Mariners Tuesday.


Zack Greinke strikes out 13 in no-decision vs. Braves
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:41 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke didn't factor into the decision Wednesday, giving up one earned run on five hits and one walk and striking out a season-high 13 batters in his team's 3-2 win over the Braves.

Greinke tossed seven scoreless innings while striking out 10 in his last start, and he kept on rolling Wednesday, with his only damage coming on an infield single in the second inning. He owns a 2.65 ERA and 153:29 K:BB ratio in 139 1/3 innings. Greinke is slated to face the Angels Monday.


Kenley Jansen blows save Wednesday vs. Braves
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:41 am ET) Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen blew a save opportunity Wednesday, giving up one earned run on one hit in one inning of action in his team's 3-2 win over the Braves.

Jansen hadn't allowed an earned run in 13 appearances going into Wednesday's game, but he served up a game-tying home run to Justin Upton to lead off the inning. He was able to retire the next three batters, though he didn't strike out any of them. Jansen owns a 3.27 ERA and 68:13 K:BB ratio in 44 innings.


Justin Upton slugs 19th home run Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:40 am ET) Braves outfielder Justin Upton had a big game Wednesday, going 3 for 4 with a double and a solo home run in his team's 3-2 loss to the Dodgers.

After the Dodgers took a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth, Upton came through with a no-doubt, leadoff home run in the bottom of the inning to tie the game. While it was just his third home run in July, Upton has hit .287/.354/.511 with 19 home runs, 62 RBI and seven stolen bases in 376 at-bats.


Matt Kemp homers, knocks walkoff single Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:40 am ET) One day after smacking two home runs, Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp went 3 for 4 with a walk, a home run and two RBI in his team's 3-2, 10-inning win over the Braves Wednesday.

Kemp smacked a solo home run in the second inning and scored a run in the eighth before coming up big in the 10th, collecting his third hit of the game and sending his team home with a win. He has delivered three straight multihit performances and is 17 for 35 with six walks in his last nine games. His hot stretch has bolstered his line, and he's hitting .288/.353/.465 with 11 home runs, 46 RBI and five stolen bases in 343 at-bats.


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Venable was just 1 for 14 in his last five games heading into Wednesday. He put his team up 4-0 with an RBI single in the fourth inning and capped off an eight-run seventh inning with a three-run home run. Venable has hit .212/.264/.306 with four home runs, 21 RBI and six stolen bases in 288 at-bats.


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(1:24 am ET) Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko delivered a big performance Wednesday, going 3 for 5 with a double, a home run and four RBI in his team's 12-1 win over the Cardinals.

Gyorko slapped a solo home run in the fourth inning, but his big hit came during an eight-run seventh, when Gyorko smacked a double with the bases loaded to drive in three. He's 6 for 11 in three games since returning from a lengthy absence caused by plantar fasciitis. Gyorko has hit .181/.232/.302 with six home runs and 29 RBI in 215 at-bats.


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by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Padres pitcher Jesse Hahn earned a win Wednesday, giving up just one earned run on four hits and two walks in seven innings and striking out three in his team's 12-1 victory over the Cardinals.

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