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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
Dodgers' Carlos Frias goes two scoreless in rehab debut Friday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(4:53 pm ET) Dodgers right-handed reliever Carlos Frias began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Oklahoma City on Friday. Frias pitched two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and a walk.

Frias has been on the disabled list since August 10 due to back tightness. It is not yet known when Frias is expected to rejoin the Dodgers' bullpen.


Blue Jays' Edwin Encarnacion slugs three home runs, drives in nine
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(4:50 pm ET) The red-hot Edwin Encarnacion got even hotter with a remarkable performance on Saturday. The Blue Jays' slugger went 3 for 5 with three home runs and nine RBI, which ties the franchise record. The Jays went on to clobber the Tigers in the 15-1 rout.

Encarnacion got the party started when he blasted a three-run shot in the first inning. He added a two-run bomb in the sixth inning before launching a grand slam in the seventh.

With the trio of homers, Encarnacion pushed his hitting streak up to 24 games, which is the longest streak in the Major Leagues this season--it's also the fifth-longest in team history, according to ESPN.com.


Tigers' Buck Farmer gets lit up by Blue Jays on Saturday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(4:43 pm ET) Tigers starter Buck Farmer was not sharp in his outing against the Blue Jays on Saturday. The young right-hander allowed six runs (five earned) on eight hits over four innings, as the Tigers got pounced in the 15-1 rout.

Farmer (0-3, 8.21 ERA) was hit hard and often in this one, as he got things started off by serving up a three-run home run to Edwin Encarnacion in the first inning. The Jays kept on adding to their lead, and the Tigers' offense was unable to solve Drew Hutchison in the afternoon.

Saturday was Farmer's fifth start of the season, and he has allowed at least three earned runs in each of those outings. 


Blue Jays SP Drew Hutchison dazzles in rout of Tigers
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(4:39 pm ET) Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchison was excellent in his outing against the Tigers on Saturday. Backed by a ton of offense, Hutchison allowed one run on six hits over seven brilliant innings. He struck out seven and did not walk a batter, throwing 76 of his 105 pitches for strikes. The Jays went on to clobber the Tigers 15-1.

Hutchison (13-2) lowered his season ERA to 4.87 with the strong outing. Hutchison was making his first start since August 16, as he was sent down to Triple-A following that start. 

Overall, the young right-hander made four starts in August and went 4-0 with a 2.46 ERA.


Indians pitcher Gavin Floyd (elbow) slated to return on Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(4:32 pm ET) The unlikley return story of Gavin Floyd has reached its peak, as Indians manager Terry Francona said Floyd will be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday. Floyd has missed the entire season so far after having elbow surgery in the offseason.

Floyd will be used out of the bullpen upon his return, Francona said, per MLB.com. 


Astros C Jason Castro (quad) goes on DL; Max Stassi recalled
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(4:28 pm ET) Astros catcher Jason Castro has been placed on the 15-day disabled list. Castro left Friday's game with a strained quad muscle. While originally the team wasn't expected to place him on the DL, it appears his condition did not improve enough and he will miss at least the next 15 days.

Max Stassi has been recalled from Triple-A and is expected to be available for Saturday's game against the Twins.


Twins' Miguel Sano returns to the lineup on Saturday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(4:18 pm ET) Twins rookie Miguel Sano has returned to the starting lineup for Saturday's game against the Astros. Sano was held out of Friday's lineup with a mild hamstring strain, but the injury was never considered all that serious.

Sano will be the designated hitter and bat fourth on Saturday.


Astros SS Carlos Correa (hamstring) unable to go on Saturday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(3:55 pm ET) Astros shortstop Carlos Correa remains out of the starting lineup Saturday against the Twins. Correa is dealing with a sore left hamstring that has kept him out of the lineup for three straight games now.

The Astros have not provided further details on Correa's status, and he is still considered day-to-day at this point.


Padres RF Matt Kemp good to go for Saturday vs. Phillies
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(3:50 pm ET) After missing two games with a sore shoulder, Padres right fielder Matt Kemp is back in the starting lineup Saturday against the Phillies. 

Kemp was held out Thursday and Friday with the injury, but he has been given the green light to return on Saturday. 

Kemp has been hitting the ball well lately, batting .308 with two home runs and 11 RBI over his last 10 games.


Mariners SP Felix Hernandez to be skipped on Monday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(3:45 pm ET) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon announced that ace Felix Hernandez will have his next start skipped. Hernandez had been scheduled to pitch on Monday in Houston, but that honor will instead go to left-hander Vidal Nuno.

This may be a blessing of sorts, as the last time Hernandez faced the Astros, he allowed eight runs while recording just one out in a 10-0 loss. 

Hernandez also struggled in the month of August, going 3-2 with an unsightly 6.60 ERA in five starts.


 
 
 
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