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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
Reds pitcher Jason Marquis continues to make case for pitching staff
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:49 pm ET) Reds pitcher Jason Marquis gave up three earned runs on seven hits in six innings of work Sunday. Marquis, who also added three strikeouts, now has a 3-1 record with a 3.46 ERA in six starts.

"He's really taken advantage of his opportunity," manager Bryan Price said. "I'm pleased with the way he's thrown the ball. When he’s been down in the zone with that sinker and slider and split combination, he's been pretty effective. He had another pretty good start today."

Marquis used 96 pitches to get through his outing.

"After the last outing, I felt pretty good with going deep into games," Marquis said. "I responded really well after the last start. Today coming in, I didn't know what my pitch limit was but I felt good enough to treat it like a regular season game. I was glad I was able to get that far."


Orioles reassign three players to minor league camp Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:45 pm ET) The Orioles made another wave of cuts Sunday, reassigning outfielder Dariel Alvarez, utility man Chris Parmelee and pitcher Chaz Roe to minor league camp, reports MASN.com.

Alvarez hit .343 in 35 spring training at-bats with two home runs and seven RBI. Parmelee hit .241 in 29 plate appearances with one double and two RBI. Roe posted a 5.91 ERA in seven appearances in 10 2/3 innings with 10 strikeouts.


Angels 'most likely' to start year with four starting pitchers
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:39 pm ET) Angels manager Mike Scioscia thinks he will start the season with a short staff, reports MLB.com. The team will "most likely" start the year with four starters in the rotation and 12 pitchers overall, Scioscia said Sunday.

The expected starters would be Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago with Garrett Richards still recovering from knee surgery.

"One of the things is, a lot of guys who are playing well, it might come down to what the fit is on the team. So there's a couple different ways," Scioscia said. "There's some things that might happen that might affect somebody's standing on the team in a positive or negative way, just to get the whole roster to be as deep as you can."


Blue Jays LHP Mark Buehrle said he'll make first start April 10
(6:35 pm ET) Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle said he will make his first start of the season April 10 in Baltimore, reports MLB.com.

The Blue Jays have not yet officially announced their rotation but it is expected they'll go in the order of: Drew Hutchison, R.A. Dickey, Daniel Norris, Buehrle and Aaron Sanchez.

"Doesn't matter to me," Buehrle said when asked if he had a preference. "I'm going to get 33 starts in by the end of the year, so it doesn't matter."

The left hander has started three games this spring, posing a 2.45 ERA in 9 2/3 innings.

Rangers' Jake Smolinski could be unexpected Opening Day left fielder
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(6:21 pm ET) Prior to spring training Jake Smolinski was not on anybody's radar, but a strong camp has put the outfielder in strong contention to be the Rangers' Opening Day left fielder, according to MLB.com.

Smolinski is hitting .333 this spring, with a home run, four doubles and a triple in 39 at-bats.

"I had some setbacks early in my career, some serious injuries," Smolinski said. "I battled back, struggled in the minors but just stuck with it and continued to get better."

Smolinski did get a Double-A call up last season, hitting .389 in 11 games, but broke a bone fouling a pitch off his left foot and missed two months.


Mets' Matt Reynolds could start at second if Daniel Murphy isn't ready
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:20 pm ET) Mets middle infielder Matt Reynolds may get the nod at second base if regular starter Daniel Murphy is not healthy enough to play on Opening Day, reports MLB.com.

Reynolds, who spent most of last season in Triple-A, is hitting .381 in 42 spring training at-bats, making the decision tough for manager Terry Collins.

"He's a baseball player -- everybody keeps saying that about him, but that's what he is," Collins said. "He handles the bat, he runs the bases, he does a lot of little things right. But Danny Muno's a dangerous bat -- I'll tell you what, he can get a hit. And the other kid, Ruben, he's played there. He's played there under the bright lights and been very successful. So we've got a lot of options."

Murphy is still recovering from a hamstring injury and is uncertain for Opening Day.


Braves third baseman Chris Johnson making adjustments at the plate
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:06 pm ET) Braves third baseman Chris Johnson needed to make some slight adjustments to his swing at the plate to get things on the right track, reports MLB.com. Johnson, who struggled early in camp with a 4 for 30 stretch, has now hit two home runs in the last four days.

"It was not easy during the first couple weeks of games," said Johnson. "I struggled, and it was hard for me mentally. I'm a results-oriented kind of guy. So, it was tough for me. Being able to stick with it and then see results is a lot of fun."

After he realized he needed to lower his hands at the plate, Johnson improved his reaction time and is able to pull the ball better.

"Pulling the ball is good for me because the book on me is to pitch me [inside] and not allow me to go to right field," Johnson said. "The new approach and [placement of my hands] is allowing me to get [opposing pitchers] out of there. Then when they go [outside], I'll be able to do what I want to do."


Astros pitcher Scott Feldman struggles with command Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:00 pm ET) Astros pitcher Scott Feldman surrendered three runs on seven hits with two walks in 4 1/3 innings pitched against the Yankees Sunday. Feldman needed 83 pitches to get through the outing and most concerned with his pitch location, reports the Houston Chronicle.

"I want to get my command better before the season starts," Feldman said. "It's just a progression, trying to just set the foundation here and take it into the season."

Feldman was taken to deep right field in the third for his first run by Chase Headley.

"Headley is a good hitter," said Feldman, who will start the second game of the season. "I kind of just got it into the happy zone for him, and he put a good swing on it."


Dodgers' Dustin McGowan pitches back-to-back days
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:56 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Dustin McGowan threw 19 pitches in a minor-league game Sunday, and it was the first time this spring he has pitched on back-to-back days, MLB.com reports.

"Haven't felt this good since I was completely healthy -- a long time ago," McGowan said Sunday. "Knock on wood."

McGowan has dealt with shoulder issues throughout his career while also undergoing Tommy John surgery once. He's given up six runs in eight innings while competing for a bullpen role.

"I don't think he's comfortable yet," Mattingly said. "We've seen some good sliders, offspeed [pitches], but I don't think he feels as consistent, throwing the ball where he wants. It's spring training and a new organization factors with him. That makes the situation tougher to figure out."

McGowan will receive a $1 million bonus if he spends one day on the active roster this year, due to the terms of his contract. He is out of minor-league options and must clear waivers before being sent down.


Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo shows defensive prowess Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:56 pm ET) Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo continues to show manager John Farrell why he should be in consideration for a starting job this season. Castillo made two outstanding plays in right field Sunday, reaching foul territory to make a catch and catching a runner at home with a strike from the outfield, reports MLB.com.

"It turned out to be a good play," said Castillo. "I'm always kind of anticipating that kind of thing to happen. When you have a man on third in a big situation, you hope you can make a play like that and execute it. Fortunately it went our way."

Castillo provides Farrell exactly what he needs in the outfield: flexibility.

"I don't know that you can make a play better than the one he made -- diving play in foul territory, he gets up, sets his feet, and then he throws a 150-foot strike," said Farrell. "A dynamic player, when you consider the skill set that he has. If there was any question on whether he could play right field, he's certainly answering those for us in camp here."


 
 
 
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