2017 Team Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates


The Pirates were out of the playoff hunt fairly early last season and finished with a record of 78-83 after moving, among others, Mark Melancon and Francisco Liriano at the trade deadline. It was a tough season in Pittsburgh as injuries hindered the team throughout the season and perennial All-Star Andrew McCutchen had a surprisingly average season on both sides of the baseball. Headed into the offseason, the word out of Pittsburgh was that the front office was looking to trade McCutchen. The Winter Meetings were headlined by McCutchen trade rumors from start to finish, but nothing ever materialized.

The Pirates have playoff aspirations once again in 2017. Their ace, Gerrit Cole, is healthy and looks to lead their pitching staff. The one major change in the field is that Andrew McCutchen will no longer patrol centerfield for the Pirates. Starling Marte will take this job and shift the veteran over to left in the Pirates’ star-studded outfield. A fair amount of the team success hinges on the outfielders’ ability to produce runs in the middle of the Pirates lineup.  

Cutch wink

Cutch is poised for a bounceback season

 

Notable Additions and Subtractions

The Pirates’ key move of the winter was resigning free agent Ivan Nova to a three-year deal. However, the Pirates lost other notable members of their pitching staff including high leverage reliever Neftali Feliz, left-hander Jeff Locke, and the seasoned veteran Ryan Vogelsong. In response, the Pirates selected lefty Tyler Webb from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft, acquired RHP Pat Light from the Twins, and signed Daniel Hudson to a two-year contract. These three pitchers are all expected to assume a bullpen role.

The Pirates also lost two notable position players in Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez. Top prospect Josh Bell appears ready to step in for Joyce, and the Pirates acquired Phil Gosselin from the Arizona Diamondbacks to fill Rodriguez’s utility infield role. Prospect Alen Hanson is expected to compete with Gosselin for the at-bats in this utility infield role.

Projected Opening Day Lineup

Pirates OF

The Pirates’ three-headed monster in the outfield

  • Josh Harrison (2B)

  • Josh Bell (1B)*

  • Andrew McCutchen (OF)

  • Starling Marte (OF)

  • Gregory Polanco (OF)

  • David Freese (3B)

  • Francisco Cervelli (C)
  • Jordy Mercer (SS)

*denotes a Spring Training battle

Projected Opening Day Rotation

  • Gerrit Cole

  • Jameson Taillon

  • Ivan Nova

  • Chad Kuhl

  • Drew Hutchison*

*denotes a Spring Training battle

Notable Bullpen Arms

  • Closer – Tony Watson
  • Setup –Daniel Hudson
  • Setup – Antonio Bastardo
  • Relief – Felipe Rivero

Prospects to Know for 2017

Josh Bell

Bell worked his way into the Pirates roster last season after a steady climb through the farm. He is a switch hitter at the plate with an advanced approach and pitch recognition that allows him to work counts and find quality pitches to hit. He makes loud contact from both sides but is more of a power threat when batting left-handed. Bell is was a right fielder early in his professional career but the Pirates moved him to first base in 2015 so that he could focus more on hitting. This transition has not gone particularly smoothly and his defensive leaves more to be desired. However, Bell profiles as a middle of the order type of bat despite the short-comings on defense. It is likely that he already has an owner in most keeper and dynasty leagues, but isn’t a bad option for redraft owners looking for value in the later rounds.

Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow

Yikes. That’s nasty.

Glasnow is a tall, lanky right-handed pitcher with electric stuff and all the control issues that often plague this type of prospect. He got a cup of coffee at the end of last season produced a 0-2 record with a 4.24 ERA in four starts and seven games pitched for the Pirates. His repertoire offers elite strikeout potential but the control problems have generated some concern about his potential as a starter. Many evaluators see him as a high leverage arm in the back end of the bullpen due to his lack of control. However, the Pirates will give Glasnow every opportunity to succeed as a starter before moving him to the bullpen, and his elite upside and proximity to the big leagues make him a must-own in all keeper league and dynasty formats.

Austin Meadows

Meadows is an elite outfield prospect for the Pirates that can hit, run, and play defense all at a high level. He lost valuable development time last season after fracturing his orbital bone early in the season and then pulling a hamstring upon his return, but he remains one of the top prospects in baseball. He is a premier athlete with a short, crisp swing that produces line drives to all fields and has a mature, advanced approach at the plate. Barring an injury or trade Meadows is slated to spend this season refining his game on the farm, but he is the next homegrown Pirates outfielder in a lineage that includes McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, and Starling Marte. Expectations are sky high for this kid and he is a must-own in all keeper and dynasty league formats.

Alen Hanson

Once upon a time, Alen Hanson was one of the top prospects in all of baseball. His glamorous status has dwindled in the last two years as he’s been converted from a middle infielder to more of a utility role in Triple-A. He is a switch-hitter with above-average speed and decent power, but he has not demonstrated the ability to produce consistently in the minors. Although the chances of him as an everyday starter have diminished, he still has the potential to become a valuable bench player. He’s out of minor-league options so this is a crucial situation for him. It’s his time to shine.

Steven Brault

Brault is another less heralded pitching prospect for the Pirates that is cut from a similar mold as  Chad Kuhl. After his debut last season he appeared in – games to the tune of a 0-3 record with a 4.86 ERA in seven starts for the Pirates. He is known as a strike thrower that complements his low nineties fastball with an above average slider and changeup. The stuff here is merely ordinary but his ability to throw strikes and outsmart batters profiles as a back of the rotation starter. He is competing for a spot in the rotation in spring training and will profile as a streamer in deeper leagues this season.

Trevor Williams

Williams remains relatively unknown in the shadow of the sexy Pirates pitching prospect names, but he has worked his way steadily up the farm system and is in a position to earn regular starts in the near future. He debuted last season for the Bucs to the tune of a 1-1 record and 7.82 ERA in eight games for the Pirates including one start. He features a sinker, slider mix that is focused generating ground balls and limiting the long ball and also will mix in a curveball and changeup that flash plus. His lack of strikeout upside limits his overall fantasy potential as a pitcher but he is one to keep an eye on later in the season.

Key Spring Training Position Battles

First BaseJosh-Bell-Pirates

  • John Jaso
  • Josh Bell

Jaso is the incumbent first baseman for the Pirates as an on-base machine and savvy defender, but he is challenged this season by highly regarded prospect Josh Bell. The latter is expected to start at first base for the Pirates on Opening Day but his lack of defensive prowess leaves more to be desired. As mentioned, Bell has some positional flexibility as he was groomed through the minors as a right fielder, and Jaso should see a fair share of at-bats this season despite Bell’s presence.

Utility Infielder

  • Adam Frazier
  • Alen Hanson
  • Philip Gosselin

None of these guys is particularly relevant for fantasy purposes except for in the deepest of leagues. But as long as Jung Ho Kang remains a question mark they are worth mentioning. Frazier has been tearing the cover off the ball in Spring Training and will steal some bases which warrants recognition. Hanson is the better of the other two options for fantasy owners as he could provide some stolen base production if he makes the team and finds playing time. Gosselin is a defense first type of player that really won’t provide much if any fantasy value.

Fifth StarterSteven-Brault-22016-3-1000x600

  • Steven Brault
  • Drew Hutchison
  • Tyler Glasnow
  • Chad Kuhl
  • Trevor Williams

Given his track record and experience in the big leagues, it appears that Drew Hutchison is the front runner for the role as the fifth starter but he has some stiff competition. Glasnow, Brault, and Kuhl both are knocking on the door after making quality debuts last season, and Trevor Williams isn’t too far despite struggles in his first taste of the league last year. For more details on each of the young guys, see the prospect outlook section above.

Fantasy Breakdown

GCole

Gerrit Cole…

The Pirates roster has a handful of elite fantasy contributors that each come with some question marks. The most important for the Pirate’s success this season is Gerrit Cole’s health. He has the talent of an ace and can anchor their staff, but his injury history makes him a risk. He is not reliable enough to select as your fantasy ace but is a quality number two option with ace potential.The other high upside pitcher in their rotation is the young righty, Jameson Taillon. He too has been plagued by the injury bug throughout his young career but shined last year in his debut, and if he can stay healthy and continue to refine his command he could dominate. His high upside is worth a mid to late round selection depending on the depth of your league.

After a poor season by his standards last year, Andrew McCutchen could go undervalued on draft day but is a prime bounce back candidate that hits in the middle of the Pirates order. The other studs are his outfield counterparts, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte. Polanco is a 20-20 candidate that should hit around .260, while Marte won’t supply as much power but will push the fifty stolen base threshold with a .300 average. Both have battle injuries during their careers and come with risk, but when they’re healthy they offer dynamic skill sets.

The other hitters in the Pirates lineup are somewhat less exciting but could still provide some value. The biggest unknown of the preseason is Jung Ho Kang and his impending suspension. It’s hard to count on a player that could miss a solid chunk of the season, but if he’s still on the board late in the draft he is a stash candidate that could help you later in the season. Setting the table at the top of the Pirates order are Josh Harrison and Josh Bell. We’ve reviewed Bell above in the prospect section, but Harrison deserves some recognition. His value is minimal in OBP leagues but he is a strong average hitter and will contribute to your stolen base and runs categories from the lead-off spot in the Pirates lineup.

Harrison

Don’t blink when Harrison is on base.

 

The players mentioned above are the most fantasy relevant options on the Pirates’ roster. Given the depth at both third base and shortstop, David Freese and Jordy Mercer are options only in deep, deep leagues. The same applies to the pitchers in the back end of the Pirates’ rotation. They’re streamer options but not guys that will deserve consistent a spot on your roster. The last name worth mentioning is the closer, Tony Watson. He’s not a sexy name among closers as he is a former setup man and doesn’t offer high strikeout upside, but the Pirates expect to contend this year and he should get plenty of save opportunities.


 When will Austin Meadows get called up? Will Cutch get traded? Can the pitching staff stay healthy? There are a bunch of questions headed into the season and it will be interesting to follow how these stories unfold. If this team can stay healthy they have a serious opportunity to make a playoff run. If not, it could mean change is on coming as the front office strives to find the delicate balance for small market teams between competing and rebuilding.

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Major League Fantasy Football 2017 League Openings

(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday March 12th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #78 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we break down both West divisions. We will discuss potential lineups, rotations, bullpens, and any minor league potential for each team along with a heavy fantasy spin.

Our guests this week are Kevin Bzdek and Kevin O’Hara. Kevin Bzdek is one of our newest additions to our baseball writing staff in 2017. His articles publish every Friday morning. Kevin O’Hara is a big dynasty baseball fan and a moderator for the fantasy baseball community on reddit.com.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday March 19th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #79 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will discuss player updates, players being overdrafted, and overall fantasy updates.

Our guest this week is Jon Merkel. Jon is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com in both baseball and football. His articles publish every Wednesday.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”



Categories: Baseball Writers, Fantasy Baseball, Major League Fantasy Sports, MLFS Authors, N.L. Central, Pittsburgh

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