“That’s Amore!” National League Central: Pittsburgh Pirates
After years at the bottom of the NL Central the Pittsburgh Pirates have developed a plethora of talent. Andrew McCutchen has become the face of the franchise, as well as a stud fantasy outfielder. He’s been nothing short of phenomenal since his debut in 2009. He’s as safe as it gets when drafting an outfielder. Last season he helped the Pirates to an 88-74 record, settling for second in the NL Central. Not to mention, Pittsburgh made the playoffs for a second straight season. With the talent this organization has there is no reason they won’t make the playoffs for a third straight season. The Cubs have been getting most of the love when it comes to their minor league system, but I can’t say enough about how the Pirates have developed their talent into one of the best young organizations. They are going to hit and they are going to score runs. For me, pitching will be the name of the game. Their bullpen is solid, especially with Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, and Mark Melancon anchoring the back-end of games. They know what they are going to get from Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett, and this is the year Gerritt Cole becomes a must have fantasy commodity. After those three, I think they have a pretty solid four and five with Jeff Locke and Vance Worley. Burnett enters the season at 38, and this makes me a bit uneasy. At the same time, if he were to falter, Pittsburgh has some great arms waiting at AAA Indianapolis.
Obviously, McCutchen is a must own in fantasy leagues. What about the other players? There are many players with potential, but four other position players stand out the most. Let me get a side note in; Pittsburgh can easily be in the argument with the Miami Marlins for the best young outfield in Major League Baseball. Starling Marte is another great Pittsburgh outfielder that can do some damage at the plate, as well as on the base paths. For two straight seasons he’s had 30 or more steals. The guy can run and he’s been successful swiping bags 73% of the time for two straight seasons. He strikes out a bit too often, but still manages a pretty good batting average. The other guy I’m high on his Gregory Polanco. Some hate him, some love him. I’m with the latter. He made his debut last season and it was a small sample size. The at-bats are going to be there all season, and he’s still growing into his 6’5″ 220 frame. If you can get him at the right time I encourage you to. Josh Harrison had a breakout year last season, and could carry three position (2B, 3B, OF) eligibility in some leagues. Their switch-hitting second baseman, Neil Walker, is another great player to have on your roster. It came together last season for Walker and he sported a .271 average with 23 homers and 76 RBI. For me, the key is he doesn’t strike out a lot. Losing Russell Martin is huge, and it’s going to be difficult finding someone to replace his production behind the plate.
2015 Projected Lineup and Statistics
|1. Josh Harrison – 3B||.280/10-12/50|
|2. Gregory Polanco – RF||.260/15/70 25 SB|
|3. Andrew McCutchen – CF||.315/25/85 20 SB|
|4. Neil Walker – 2B||.270/20/70|
|5. Starling Marte – LF||.270-.280/10-15/50-50 30+ SB|
|6. Pedro Alvarez – 1B||.250/25-30/75-80|
|7. Jordy Mercer – SS||.260/10/50 If he struggles again, Kang starts|
|8. Francisco Cervelli – C||.240/3/30 He’ll get at-bats, but he’s not good|
Their projected lineup features speed and some pop. If Alvarez can get back to the 20+ home run range, it’ll take some pressure off of the rest of the lineup. As far as their backstop, I’m not content with Cervelli or anyone else. I truly believe the Pirates are the reason the Cubs may go with three catchers to start the season. Wellington Castillo looks to be the odd man out, but there is no way the Cubs will cut him loose and risk him signing with the Pirates. If they could trade him out of the division they would, but there is no way Theo will let Castillo be claimed by a division foe. I look for Pittsburgh to build off of last season and again compete for the NL Central. Of course the Cardinals will lead the way and before you know it, the Cubs will finally start getting into the playoff picture. These next few seasons are crucial for Pittsburgh to make some noise come playoff time. I’m not saying their window is closing, but it makes it easier when it’s your team and one other competing for the division.
Top Prospect to Make an Impact First:
Jung Ho Kang: It’s fair to not call Kang a prospect, but in my eyes he’s the player with no MLB experience to make the first impact. Last season, Jordy Mercer hit .190 for the first two months of the season. That leash won’t be there this season. Kang hit .356 with 40 home runs and 117 RBI while playing in Korea. I understand that production won’t translate to the MLB, but it gives Pittsburgh breathing room if Mercer struggles out of the gate.
2015 Projected Rotation and Statistics
|1. Francisco Liriano||3.30/12 W/170 K|
|2. A.J. Burnett||3.89/12 W/175 K He’s 38. Needs to stay healthy|
|3. Gerritt Cole||3.15/14 W/180 K 2015 All-Star|
|4. Jeff Locke||3.88/9 W/130 K|
|5. Vance Worley||3.50/10 W/120 K|
Liriano and Cole look to lead the way for the Pirates pitching staff. I have Burnett slated as the number two starter but before the season is over Cole will claim that position. Cole has all the tools and will be their number one next season. I expect big things from him and he will be representing the Pirates in Cincinnati over All-Star weekend. Also, Pittsburgh is an organization that has some great arms in their minor league system. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few get called up this season.
Top Prospect to Make an Impact First:
Tyler Glasnow: It’s a toss up between Glasnow and Jameson Taillon, but Taillon is coming back from Tommy John Surgery. I had them both coming up in 2016, but if Glasnow is hot this season and Pittsburgh needs a shot in the arm Glasnow will get the call. He can slide into a starting role and can definitely strike guys out.
Bullpen: Pittsburgh’s bullpen has been solid. Tony Watson and Jared Hughes will once again get the games to Mark Melancon in the ninth. Melancon has become a solid closer and should reach 40+ saves this season.
The Pirates will yet again compete for the NL Central. I have them pushing the Cardinals for the division, but finishing second to the Cardinals. The bats will be there and their pitching staff is as good as anyone’s to compete in the division. It’s not a shot in the dark for Pittsburgh to acquire another starter during the summer as insurance for an aging A.J. Burnett.
|Fantasy Targets||Keep An Eye On|
|Andrew McCutchen||Jody Mercer|
|Starling Marte||Jung Ho Kang|
|Gregory Polanco||Pedro Alvarez|
|Josh Harrison||A.J. Burnett|
|Neil Walker||Jared Hughes|
|Francisco Liriano||Tyler Glasnow|
|Gerritt Cole||Tony Watson|
Season Projection: 90-72 (2nd in NL Central)
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