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2013 Fantasy outlooks: Pittsburgh Pirates

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The Pirates headed into last season's trade deadline as legitimate playoff contenders, and after fortifying their roster with a few deals, they seemed poised to end their 19-year streak of losing seasons, if not their playoff drought. Instead, a 20-39 record from August 1 forward ensured that the Pirates would go two full decades without a winning record or a postseason berth.

The acquisitions of Wandy Rodriguez and Travis Snider didn't pay off down the stretch, and neither did the promotion of outfield prospect Starling Marte, but all three will be counted on to play a key role in 2013. Snider and Marte will start the season in the outfield corners and be asked to bolster a lineup that relied heavily on Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker for production. Rodriguez will return to the rotation, as will A.J. Burnett, James McDonald and Jeff Karstens.

One member of the rotation who won't be back is Kevin Correia, who bolted for the Twins as a free agent, but offseason signee Francisco Liriano will fill the vacancy. The Pirates also swapped out free agents for the other part of their battery, as the departing Rod Barajas will be replaced by ex-Yankee Russell Martin. The biggest move of their offseason, however, was the trade that sent closer Joel Hanrahan, along with infielder Brock Holt, to the Red Sox for Mark Melancon, Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus and Stolmy Pimentel. None of the acquired players is likely to have a serious Fantasy impact this season, but Hanrahan's departure opens the door for Jason Grilli to assume the closer's role.

2013 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

Unlike in blackjack, the Pirates will do their best to avoid hitting "21," as they try to break their skein of losing seasons. It's not unthinkable that the 2013 Bucs could be a winning team, but several factors would have to work in their favor. McCutchen will need to sustain the mammoth gains he achieved last season, and Burnett -- who went 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA -- will have to keep his comeback going. It will also help if Martin hits for power away from Yankee Stadium, Snider and Marte live up to their potential and Liriano stays healthy enough to deliver at least 160 innings. Just as the Pirates present their fans with a great deal of uncertainty, many of their players will cause some angst in the draft room, as few of the Pirates' Fantasy fortunes are clear for the coming year.

Buyer beware ... Andrew McCutchen, outfielder

McCutchen had a major breakout in 2012, batting .327, scoring 100-plus runs for the first time and posting his first 90-plus RBI season. There is no denying that McCutchen took his power game to another level, but were his gains enough to ensure that he will be an elite producer in Fantasy again this year? To match last season's level of production, McCutchen would not only have to maintain his power, but he will also have to come near the .348 batting average on grounders he put up a year ago. While McCutchen gets his fair share of infield hits, that is still an outrageously high average. Owners should expect fewer hits and runs as McCutchen's overall batting average should fall to around .290. That's still good enough to make him a first-rounder in Head-to-Head, but in Rotisserie leagues, the projected dip in average should drop McCutchen into the second round. You may be tempted to take him with your first pick for fear that he won't be available in Round 2, but resist the urge and let someone else take him that early.

Breakout ... Pedro Alvarez, third baseman

2013 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Starling Marte LF
2. Neil Walker 2B
3. Andrew McCutchen CF
4. Garrett Jones 1B
5. Pedro Alvarez 3B
6. Travis Snider RF
7. Russell Martin C
8. Clint Barmes SS
Bench Jose Tabata OF
Bench Gaby Sanchez 1B
Bench Josh Harrison 2B

Alvarez got off to a tepid start last season, and as late as June 15, he owned a .189/.254/.373 slash line. Even during the early weeks, Alvarez hit with power, but later in the season, he hit for extra bases even more frequently. and he started to strike out less and walk more. In other words, he began to resemble the version of himself that got Fantasy owners excited back when he was a prospect. Alvarez's poor start, coming on the heels of a frustrating 2011 campaign, may have confirmed for many owners that he was a dud, but for the better part of the 2012 season -- from June 16 on -- he compiled a .274/.352/.518 slash line. He won't need to approach that level to be viable in standard mixed leagues, and even with a conservative assessment, Alvarez projects to be a top 10 third baseman in Rotisserie formats.

Enigma ... James McDonald, starting pitcher

Just as Alvarez was starting to put things together last season, McDonald was falling apart. With a 2.37 ERA in the first half, McDonald finally seemed to be living up to expectations, as he appeared to have put his command issues behind him. The second half started poorly for McDonald, as he failed to notch a quality start his first four times out, and he registered a 7.52 ERA after the All-Star break. To be sure, he turned in several clunkers, and he did have a harder time locating in the strike zone, but McDonald's slump was amplified by rough stretches in July and September. In five August starts, McDonald threw strikes at a higher rate than he did during the first half, and he held batters to a .223 average. According to FanGraphs, he stranded only 61 percent of his baserunners that month, which helped to exaggerate the extent of his slump. While McDonald's inconsistency does makes his value hard to assess, the fact that his downturn was neither as long nor as severe as it appeared on the surface should give owners more confidence in him. He showed enough of his good side last season to be worth drafting as a late-round pick in standard mixed leagues.

2013 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. A.J. Burnett RHP
2. Wandy Rodriguez LHP
3. James McDonald RHP
4. Francisco Liriano LHP
5. Jeff Karstens RHP
ALT Jeff Locke LHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Jason Grilli RHP
2. Mark Melancon RHP
3. Jared Hughes RHP
4. Tony Watson LHP
5. Chris Leroux RHP

Prospects report

Gerrit Cole has lived up to his billing as a first overall pick, as he cruised through Advanced Class A and Double-A last season. He even got a brief taste of Triple-A, which is where he is likely to begin the 2013 season. Barring a change in fortunes, he should arrive in Pittsburgh's rotation later this year. ... Jameson Taillon is less likely to join the Pirates' rotation this season, but he looked good in the Florida State League after overcoming a midseason slump. ... 18-year-old Luis Heredia is at least two years away from the majors, but like fellow hurlers Cole and Taillon, he should be targeted in long-term keeper leagues. ... Kyle McPherson lacks the upside of the Pirates' top three pitching prospects, but he is the one who is most likely to make an impact this year. He's worth a late-round pick in deeper NL-only leagues. ... The Pirates lack position player prospects who are close to making a Fantasy impact, but outfielders Gregory Polanco and Josh Bell and shortstop Alen Hanson are all worth having in long-term keeper leagues.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Reports: Mets eyeing third game of season for Matt Harvey's debut
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:52 am ET) It appears the Mets are leaning toward having starting pitcher Matt Harvey, who has not pitched in a regular season game since Aug. 2013 due to Tommy John surgery, make his season debut in the third game at Washington, several team sources told the New York Post.

The Mets are targeting the third game on the road, as opposed to the season and home openers, because they don't want Harvey to feel added pressure given the circumstances, particularly if he makes his first start in front of an exhilarated home crowd.

"All that has been discussed,’’ one source said.

“Things can change, but that schedule makes sense,’’ another source said.

Harvey seems fine with whatever the Mets have in store.

“Anything they want to do is good,’’ Harvey said.


Phillies' Harang opts to skip spring debut Wednesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:41 am ET) Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Harang was scratched from his spring debut Wednesday against the Yankees.

Although Harang had an ice pack on his lower back Tuesday, according to The News Journal, he told reporters he will miss Wednesday's start because he needs to work on his mechanics and is not ready to pitch in a game. Harang added he does intend to be ready the next time his turn in the rotation comes up. 

Harang dodged questions about his back issues, but he did mention he went to see a chiropractor a few days ago to get his back realigned.

Kevin Slowey will start in Harang's place Wednesday.


Nationals' Yunel Escobar returns after dealing with fever Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:35 am ET) Nationals second baseman Yunel Escobar was back practicing Tuesday after missing on-field workouts Monday due to a fever, according to The Washington Post. Escobar said he was feeling better Tuesday.

Pirates' Cumpton to meet with Dr. Andrews concerning elbow issue
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:31 am ET) Pirates pitcher Brandon Cumpton is slated to meet with Dr. James Andrews on Monday after feeling discomfort in his elbow, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Cumpton first noticed an issue when he was throwing live batting practice last week.

Pirates 1B Corey Hart expects to make spring debut by Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:27 am ET) Pirates first baseman Corey Hart suffered a laceration on his foot near the arch when he stepped on a loose hot tub filter, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Hart, however, expects to make his spring debut by Monday.

Manager Clint Hurdle revealed Monday that Hart needed three stitches to close the wound. He also mentioned Hart would be sidelined for a few days.


Report: Twins working on contract extension for Brian Dozier
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:23 am ET) The Twins are working on signing second baseman Brian Dozier to a contract extension, according to the Pioneer Press. There were strong indications Tuesday the Twins were making progress with Dozier's agent -- Damon Lapa -- and a contract extension could be close to being finalized, a source said.

“I’d love to be here,” said Dozier, who declined to comment on the negotiations. “I don’t want to be anywhere else. If the opportunity presents itself, then I’m all for it. We’ll see.”

Dozier is not arbitration eligible until after the 2015 season. If he does sign a contract extension, it will likely run through all three of his arbitration years and likely 1-2 free agent years.

Dozier tied a career high with 33 doubles in 2014, but he did finish with a career-best 23 home runs. He also had a career-high 21 stolen bases and 112 runs.


Tigers' Victor Martinez: I'm still on track for opening day
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:13 am ET) Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez told reporters he remains on track to play on opening day, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Martinez, who is working his way back from a medial menisectomy in his left knee, revealed that he suffered the injury while playing catch in the street with his brother in February. He took 25 swings off a tee from each of the plate on Monday, and told reporters he would have taken 50 if the team trainer wasn't around.

The 36-year-old hit .335/.409/.565 over 561 at-bats last year.


Red Sox looking at Brandon Workman as a reliever
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:12 am ET) The Red Sox are looking at pitcher Brandon Workman as a reliever this spring, according to the Boston Herald

Manager John Farrell seemed to think Workman would be more than adequate in the role. "His mentality is one that embraces those higher leverage type of innings," Farrell said. "In one-inning stints, his stuff plays up a little bit more with power, a little bit more swing-and-miss ability with his fastball."

Workman seems open to the change. "If John tells me that’s where I’m going to fit in, that’s where I’ll fit in," he said.

The 26-year-old Workman posted a 5.17 ERA over 87 innings last year. 


Twins' GM believes Kyle Gibson can get to the next level
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:44 am ET) Twins general manager Terry Ryan believes pitcher Kyle Gibson can get to the next level, according to the Star Tribune.

"The guy has too good of stuff not to be more consistent," Ryan said. "I don’t think it’s 'if' he makes another jump. He’s going to make a jump. It’s a matter of how high."

Gibson showed flashes of promise in 2014. While his overall numbers were just average, Gibson was solid during the first half of the year. He posted a 3.92 ERA over 101 innings to start the year, but struggled with a 5.17 ERA in the second half. Gibson said the reason for his success last year had to do with execution.

"The reason for the jump was my focus on executing pitches," Gibson said. "In 2013 I got caught up in all the information and the scouting reports instead of realizing this is the pitch I need to execute so let’s execute it."

Gibson said he's hoping to increase his strikeout rate this season, but wants to make sure he can still retain his strong ground ball rate. The 27-year-old posted a 4.47 ERA over 179 1/3 innings last season. 


Rays manager believes Grant Balfour will be ready for opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Rays manager Kevin Cash believes pitcher Grant Balfour will be good to go by opening day, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Balfour is currently in Australia, tending to his sick father. Cash said Balfour was still working out, and expects the pitcher to be ready for the start of the regular season. The 37-year-old posted a 3.46 ERA over 62 1/3 innings last season. 


 
 
 
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