MLB Team News & Rumors: Pittsburgh

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Pittsburgh Pirates

Our expert from,Shawn Childs, helps you prepare for your big fantasy baseball draft.

Pittsburgh Pirates Team Projection

The Pirates were able to finish the job in 2013 after collapsing over the last 52 games of 2012 (16-36). They finished 2nd in the NL Central with their best record since 1992, which was also the last time they made the playoffs. The key to their success was the improvement of their pitching staff, evidenced by them finishing 3rd in the majors in ERA (3.26). Overall, Pittsburgh has improved in the pitching department in each of the last 3 seasons. They allowed the least of amount of HR's (101) in the majors, but their offense has been short for 5 straight years. Last year, the Pirates finished 9th in the NL in runs (634 - 3.9 runs per game), but they did hit the 3rd most HR's (161) in the National League. Their key loss was P A.J. Burnett, who had his best season in the majors. They also lost 3 players they acquired late in the season in 2013 - OF Marlon Byrd, 1B Justin Morneau, and C John Buck. Pittsburgh's only signing was P Edinson Volquez, while they also acquired veteran backup C Chris Stewart in a minor deal with the Yankees.

1. OF Starling Marte

Starling Marte fantasy baseball

Marte is getting a lot of love in the early draft season. His plusses are his run % (49%), SB's (41), and his AVH (1.573). His negatives are his K rate (24.4%), walk rate (4.4%), and RBI total (35). His short RBI's were due to lack of chances (208), which is a real low number for his at bat total. His AVH was above average, which also points to more power down the road. Starling was very good against lefties (.402 with a .402 SLG %), but he only had 6 RBI's. In terms of injuries, he missed 3 weeks late in the year due to a sprained finger. Marte did most of his damage before the All Star break (.294 with 9 HR's, 28 RBI's, and 28 SB's). Starling had been a GB hitter (50.8%) in his first 677 at bats in the majors. He hit .303 during his minor league career with 39 HR's, 240 RBI's, and 131 SB's in 1,796 at bats. Overall, his season in 2013 fell in line with his minor league resume. Furthermore, his skill set isn't ideal to bat leadoff and his approach at the plate will lead to batting average risk. He has talent for sure, but I could see some regression this year. His power isn't ready to make a step forward due to his high GB rate, but his biggest asset is speed. On pure comparison, Mike Trout would have been on base 118 more times (39.3% more) if their at bats were the same (589), which just shows the impact of a better leadoff hitter for McCutchen.

2. OF Jose Tabata

Jose Tabata fantasy baseball

Tabata has never developed into the player the Pirates or fantasy players thought he would. His K rate (13.2%) is in a good area and it has improved over the last 2 seasons. However, his walk rate (6.7%) has declined over the last 2 years. Jose was a better hitter against RH pitching (.292), but his SLG % (.471) was much stronger against lefties. Over the last 2 months, he hit .312 with 4 HR's and 21 RBI's in 157 at bats. Tabata has a huge GB rate (58.8%) with a short FB rate (22.7%). Additionally, his HR/FB rate (10.2%) was a career high. Jose had the most success against four seam fastballs (.341 with a .645 SLG %). Overall, Tabata is a post hype prospect. His strongest skill is his speed, but he didn't run last year. Furthermore, his power is extremely limited due to a high GB rate. Without a change in swing path, he has a possible 10/30 skill set if he ever earned full time at bats. The key to his value will be playing time. Jose is still young enough to make a step forward. Possible flyer if he plays well in spring training, but Pittsburg has upside talent behind him in the minors that will push him to the sidelines in the near future if he fails.

3. OF Andrew McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen fantasy baseball

McCutchen has had back to back plus seasons. His K rate (15.0%) made a nice step forward, while his walk rate (11.6%) remains an asset. Andrew has only missed 22 games over the last 4 seasons. His SLG % has been over .500 in back to back years, but his power regressed in 2013. His speed is the key to his value. McCutchen is an elite hitter against LH pitching (.388 with a .650 SLG %), and even had more walks (18) than K's (11) against lefties. He hit over .300 in each of the last 5 months of the year in 2013. After a jump in his HR/FB rate (19.4%), it returned to his career average (12.4%) last year. His LD rate (24.5%) was a career high, a number that has improved during each season in the majors. Andrew is a great fastball hitter (.382 against four seam fastballs and .379 against sinkers). Overall, McCutchen is an elite player with a stable skill set. His next step up will need to come from his supporting cast. The Pirates are on the rise and Andrew is the face of the franchise. He has upside across the board, but my only fear is that he has stayed healthy for 4 straight years.

4. 3B Pedro Alvarez

Pedro Alvarez fantasy baseball

Alvarez is what he is; a swing and miss power hitter. His K rate (30.3%) has been in a tight range over his entire career. However, Pedro's walk rate (7.9%) was a career low. He also only hit .180 against LH pitching with a .286 SLG %. Alvarez had 56 K's in 147 at bats against lefties (38.1% K rate), which was in line with his career resume. Pedro played his best ball from May to July (.262 with 23 HR's and 59 RBI's in 271 at bats). His HR/FB rate (26.3%) was a career high and it has now been elite in back to back seasons. His increase in power has been a result of a rising FB rate (36.4%). Many fantasy players will draft him based on his upside in power. To me, he isn't the next Ryan Howard. Ryan wasn't great against lefties (.224 in his career), but he could hit HR's against LH pitching. Last year, Alvarez led the NL in strikeouts (186). Basically, he is the right handed version of Mark Reynolds. Furthermore, he isn't a great run producer (16% during his career). If you are looking for a 30+ HR hitter with extreme batting average risk, Pedro should be at the top of your list.

5. 2B Neil Walker

Neil Walker fantasy baseball

Walker is one of those players that isn't flashy. He went on the DL twice with a hand and oblique injury, but his overall skill set showed some growth. His K rate (15.4%) was a career low and his walk rate (9.1%) was a career high. His AVH (1.667) even gained value, however, his value against LH pitching really bottomed out in 2013 (.225 with only 1 extra base hit in 80 at bats). Neil is a career .260 hitter against lefties with only 4 HR's in 477 at bats (50 career HR's). Overall, Walker delivered below replacement value in 5 of 6 months. His power (7 HR's) did emerge in September. Over the past 2 years, Neil has missed 62 games. His power is trending up (even with shorter at bats), while his skill set is still strong enough to be a slight asset in batting average. Prior to last season, he had a solid RBI rate (19% in 2010, 18% in 2011, and 19% in 2012) in 3 straight seasons. I believe he has the potential to be a 20/80 player with some underlying speed.

6. C Russell Martin

Russell Martin fantasy baseball

Martin's career peaked at age 25. Early during his career, he had a plus approach. His K rate (21.3%) has been on a negative decline for 5 straight seasons. While his walk rate (11.5%) has stayed intact, he can't have any upside without higher contact. Russell only hit .194 vs. LH pitching with a .301 SLG %. He continues to be a GB hitter (50.8%), while his HR/FB rate (13.9%) has been above his career average over the last 3 seasons. Last year, Martin couldn't hit a sinker (.212), a changeup (.079), or a slider (.212). He picked up a slight knee injury in July, one that would re-emerge in September. His average has had risk for the last 5 seasons and there are no signs of a change in his skill set. Martin has 15 HR power with batting average risk, but he could lose at bats against LH pitching. That's never a good sign for a RH hitter.

7. 1B Travis Snider

Travis Snider fantasy baseball

Just like Tabata, Snider hasn't developed as planned. Over the last 6 years, he has had 1,224 major league at bats. His K rate (26.3%) hasn't improved and his walk rate (8.4%) came in at the league average. He only had 22 at bats against LH pitching in 2013 (2 hits with 13 K's). Travis also struggled against RH pitching (.225). He suffered a slight oblique injury in late April and later a toe injury that lingered over the last 2 months of the year. He ended up having surgery in December to correct the issue. His GB rate (51.6%) has been too high for a power hitter and his HR/FB rate (8.2%) hasn't been as strong as it was during his first season in Toronto. Snider is a career .309 hitter in the minors with 86 HR's and 387 RBI's in 1,929 at bats. Tough to believe in Travis after multiple failed chances in the majors. At this point of his career, he doesn't look like an elite prospect. He has power, but his lack of contact makes him a part time player at best. Possible LH option at 1B.

8. SS Jordy Mercer

Jordy Mercer fantasy baseball

Mercer looks like the favorite to be the starting shortstop for the Pirates this year. He is a career .268 hitter in the minors with 42 HR's, 283 RBI's, and 37 SB's in 2,010 at bats. His K rate (17.0%) was better than the league average and was 15.5% during his minor league career. However, his walk rate (6.0%) looks like it has no upside, which makes it tough to project him as a top of the order hitter. Jordy has solid size and a 19 HR season on his minor league resume. He tends to be a GB hitter (46.8%) with a short FB rate (30.3%). Overall, his glove is the only advantage he has over top prospect SS Alen Hanson. Possible source of power from short, but he isn't a lock to keep the job all season.

9. 1B Gaby Sanchez

Gaby Sanchez fantasy baseball

Sanchez appeared to be a steady backend option at first base in 2010 and 2011, showing 20 HR power with a solid approach at the plate. After a bad start in 2012, he was shipped to the Pirates, where he was only able to get part time at bats over the last 2 seasons. Pittsburgh doesn't have a strong option at first base this year, so Gaby may emerge as the starter. His K rate (15.9%) has been above the league average for most of his career, while his walk rate (13.8%) was a career high (shows upside). Last year, he played his best ball against LH pitching (.333 with a .539 SLG %). Sanchez has however struggled against righties (.205) in back to back seasons. In 2013, he played well in April (4 HR's and 16 RBI's), but he was unable to gain any more playing time. His lack of success against RH pitching makes it tough to expect him to be a full time player this year. Pittsburgh may add a left handed bat to compete with him for playing time.

10. C Chris Stewart

He is expected to be the backup catcher this season. Stewart is a career .214 hitter with only 8 HR's and 51 RBI's during his career.

11. 1B Andrew Lambo

He made it to AA at age 19, but has struggled to move up to the majors. Lambo has played some part of 6 years at AA. He is a career .276 hitter in the minors with 88 HR's and 398 RBI's in 2,459 at bats. His K rate (20.8%) isn't horrible and his walk rate (8.7%) should come in about the league average. Last year, he had 32 HR's between AA and AAA and played well enough at AAA (.272 with 18 HR's and 53 RBI's in 224 bats) where he should get a shot as a lefty option at first base in 2014.

12. MI Josh Harrison

He will be the utility infielder/outfielder this season. He hasn't done much in his 532 major league at bats (.250 with 7 HR's, 46 RBI's, and 13 SB's). Furthermore, he is a career .308 hitter in the minors with 21 HR's, 216 RBI's, and 99 SB's in 1,764 at bats.

13. SS Clint Barmes

His skill set has declined over the past 5 seasons where he is just a backup player. Last year, he only hit .211 with 5 HR's and 23 RBI's in 304 at bats. Barmes has no fantasy value.

14. SS Alen Hanson

He probably doesn't have a strong enough glove to be an option at short for the Pirates in the near future. Hanson is a career .292 hitter in the minors with 28 HR's, 183 RBI's, and 109 SB's in 1,445 at bats. Alen will start the year at age 21. He has made 92 errors over the last 2 years. Hanson will have a 10/30 skill set with upside when he makes it to the majors.

15. OF Josh Bell

He is the impact bat that Pittsburgh sorely needs in their major league lineup. The start to his career was cut short by a knee injury in 2012 that required surgery. Last year, he hit .279 at A ball with 13 HR's and 76 RBI's in 459 at bats. Bell is projected to have plus power and should hit for average. He is expected to start the year at AA and could push his way quickly to the majors if he starts driving the ball. Great flyer in an NL only league.

16. OF Gregory Polanco

After a slow start to his minor league career, Polanco has blossomed into an upside prospect over the last 2 seasons. Last year, he hit .285 with 12 HR's, 71 RBI's , and 38 SB's at High A and AA. He has 127 career steals in 1,495 at bats with a solid walk rate (9.5%) and a low K rate (15.5%). He might have the best skill set to bat near the top in Pittsburgh's lineup. Overall, he has enough size where some believe he may develop into a 30/30 hitter. Should start the year at AAA.


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