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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
Pirates' Gregory Polanco smacks second home run of season Thursday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco connected off Padres starter Ian Kennedy for his second home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Polanco hit the solo home run in the second inning. He finished the game 2 for 5 with one RBI and one run scored. He is now hitting .247 on the season.

Prior to his performance Thursday, Polanco was hitting .333 with one RBI in his last five games.


Pirates C Francisco Cervelli collects three hits in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:49 am ET) Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli had three more hits during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres to raise his batting average to .320 on the season.

During Thursday's contest, Cervelli went 3 for 5 with two runs scored. Over his last five games, Cervelli is 9 for 17 with four RBI and six runs scored.


Pirates OF Starling Marte hits 10th home run of season Thursday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:44 am ET) Pirates outfielder Starling Marte smacked his 10th home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Marte hit the two-run home run off Ian Kennedy in the third inning. Marte finished the game 1 for 3 with two RBI, two runs scored and one walk.

Prior to Thursday's contest, Marte was hitting .167 with one home run and four RBI in his last six games.


Angels' Erick Aybar (hamstring) not expected to need DL stint
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:40 am ET) Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after Thursday's win over the Tigers that shortstop Erick Aybar (hamstring) is not expected to need a trip to the disabled list, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Aybar left Thursday's game due to hamstring tightness. He suffered the injury while trying to beat a bunt to first base. The team could call up a capable replacement at shortstop even if the Angels believe Aybar will only miss a few games with the injury. He was replaced Thursday by Taylor Featherston, who had played a total of six innings across four games at the position this season.


Pirates' Andrew McCutchen collects three hits in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:37 am ET) Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 5 at the plate to help lead the Pirates to an 11-5 victory over the Padres on Thursday.

McCutchen drove in two runs and scored two during the contest. Prior to his three-hit game Thursday, McCutchen was hitting .382 with three home runs and five RBI in his last nine games.


Padres 3B Will Middlebrooks collects three hits in Thursday's loss
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:32 am ET) Padres third baseman Will Middlebrooks went 3 for 4 at the plate during Thursday's contest, but it was not enough as the Padres fell 11-5 to the Pirates.

All three of the hits for Middlebrooks were singles. He drove in one run and scored a run during the game.

Middlebrooks is 9 for 22 with two home runs and five RBI in his last five games. During that time, he has raised his batting average from .211 to .240.


Pirates SS Jung Ho Kang slugs three-run home run in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang connected off pitcher Ian Kennedy in the first inning for his third home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Ho Kang finished the game 1 for 5 with three RBI. Ho Kang has hit safely in his last 10 games. During that time, he is 15 for 41 with eight RBI and he has raised his average from .270 to .308.


Angels' Chris Iannetta delivers grand slam in win Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Angels catcher Chris Iannetta went 2 for 4 with a grand slam in his team's 12-2 win over the Tigers on Thursday.

Iannetta put the cherry on top of a blowout win for the Angels with his seventh-inning slam, which increased the Angels' lead to 11 runs before the Tigers were able to get one back in the ninth. It was the fourth grand slam of the catcher's career.

Iannetta has hit just .178/.263/.307 with 13 RBI in 101 at-bats, but all three of his home runs have come in his last eight games.


Pirates SP A.J. Burnett allows five runs in Thursday's start
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:22 am ET) Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett gave up five runs (four earned) over 5 2/3 innings to earn his fifth victory of the season during the 11-5 win over the Padres on Thursday.

Burnett (5-1) struck out six and walked two batters during the outing. His ERA rose from 1.37 to 1.81.

The Pirates gave Burnett a 7-0 lead before Burnett allowed two runs to score in the fourth inning on hits by Justin Upton and Will Middlebrooks. Burnett permitted more runs in the fifth inning when two hits and two errors led to two runs.

By failing to toss seven innings Thursday, it broke Burnett's streak of four-consecutive starts throwing seven innings. He allowed four earned runs during those outings. His next expected is scheduled for Tuesday at San Francisco.


Angels' Matt Joyce homers in second straight game Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:21 am ET) Angels left fielder Matt Joyce went 2 for 3 with a home run and two RBI in his team's 12-2 win over the Tigers on Thursday.

After being bogged down offensively for much of the season, Joyce has now homered in consecutive games and looks to be getting on track at the plate. He has hit just .187/.262/.313 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 134 at-bats, but it's improvement on his .360 OPS at the end of April.


 
 
 
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