The Pittsburgh Pirates finally rose from the depths of obscurity in 2013 by making the playoffs for the first time since 1992. “Pirate Fever” ran wild through the Steel City as the organization shared a glimpse of what the future likely holds for a ballclub that has one of the deepest minor league systems in all of baseball.
It was the first season in a long, long time where the Pirates had more than one or two Fantasy relevant players.
Andrew McCutchen provided five-tool production and won the NL Most Valuable Player award.
Pedro Alvarez flashed his raw power to the tune of 36 home runs.
Starling Marte had a true coming-out party for the Pirates. He was the anchor at the top of their lineup as he hit 10 triples and stole 41 bases. That is the type of leadoff production the Pirates had been missing for years.
In addition to a true leadoff hitter, the Pirates may have found two potential aces in Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole. Liriano’s career was resurrected, as he had his best overall season since his rookie year in 2006, and Cole began his, providing Pirate fans with a bright glimpse into the immediate future.
The offseason for Pittsburgh has likely shown A.J. Burnett the door, and a possible rotation spot for Edinson Volquez. Much like they did with Liriano, the Pirates hope to make Volquez their next reclamation project.
Projected 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates “Go-To” Lineup
- Starling Marte, LF
- Jordy Mercer, SS
- Andrew McCutchen, CF
- Pedro Alvarez, 3B
- Neil Walker, 2B
- Russell Martin, C
- Gaby Sanchez, 1B
- Jose Tabata, RF
- SP1 Francisco Liriano
- SP2 Gerrit Cole
- SP3 Wandy Rodriguez
- SP4 Charlie Morton
- SP5 Edinson Volquez
- LHP Jeff Locke
- Setup: Mark Melancon
- Setup: Tony Watson
- Closer: Jason Grilli
Fantasy Stud: Andrew McCutchen
McCutchen is fresh off of his first NL MVP award and, with his talent, he could have a few more on his mantle by the time his career is over. In most drafts, McCutchen is going to be drafted third or fourth overall because he represents all of the stereotypical Fantasy-stud attributes: power, speed and a high on-base percentage.
Though, he has been a Fantasy phenomenon for a few years, McCutchen has yet to eclipsed 100 RBI in a season, but that yet is beginning to feel like a matter of time.
Health is another intangible that has always been on McCutchen’s side, and while there are others who might have the potential to produce like McCutchen, few of them make it onto the field each day.
Breakout Candidate: Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole
The progression has been slow for Alvarez, but in 2013, he experienced something of a mini-breakout (pardon the oxymoron). With 36 home runs, Alvarez reached a career-high in that category and possesses the raw power to hit over 40 home runs this year.
For him to achieve that number, though, he is going to have to cut down on his strikeouts — last season, he struck out 186 times, which lead the league. If Alvarez is able to send 40-45 balls over the fence this year, his power alone will vault him up draft board in 2015, no matter his batting average.
After breezing through 38 minor league starts, Cole finally arrived in Pittsburgh in June with numbers which bordered on elite for the first three months after his arrival. Cole really turned up the heat in September, going 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 32 innings pitched, verifying his status as a flamethrower and showing excellent control in his rookie season.
There is a ton to like with Cole and he has a legitimate chance to reach ace status. If Cole does take another stride forward this year, the Pirates greatly increase their chances of making the postseason for the second consecutive year.
Bust Candidate: Jason Grilli
For an invaluable portion of the 2013 season, Grilli anchored an excellent Pirates bullpen. On July 22, he suffered an elbow injury that the Pirates, and Fantasy owners, feared would lead to Tommy John surgery. Remarkably, rest did the trick for Grilli and he returned in September with mixed results.
If Grilli’s elbow issue flares up this year or he falters for any extended stretch, Mark Melancon will be ready and willing to take over the ninth inning role for the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Top Rookies: Gregory Polanco, Jameson Taillon
The Pirates deep minor-league system is a showcase of talent headlined by both Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon, consensus top-20 prospects on most industry lists who will receive their shot in the bigs this season.
Polanco was signed as a 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic and he has risen quickly through the Pirates’ minor-league system. He has a dynamic blend of power and speed to go along with excellent on-base skills. He plays centerfield, but will be manning right field for Pittsburgh upon his call up that will likely come sometime around midseason.
Adding Polanco to the combination of McCutchen and Marte creates a potential lethal outfield with both the bat and glove.
Drafted out of The Woodlands High School in Texas, Taillon is a power pitcher with a huge frame. He is still harnessing his craft and needs to continue to develop his changeup, but what he lacks with that pitch, he more than makes up for with his knee-buckling curveball.
Depending on his results at Triple-A this year, you should expect to see Taillon in Pittsburgh sometime after the All-Star break; however, sterling early numbers could rush that date along.
What Should We Know?
The Pirates have more depth at their disposal than any time in recent memory. They will have a solid lineup with the possibility for an extraordinary top half, depending on when Polanco makes his debut.
McCutchen has the ability to put up gaudy numbers and win another MVP award. There is a reason he is a top-five pick this season.
It is essential for Alvarez to really take a huge step forward this year. With some polish and patience, he could be one of the most dynamic power hitters in the game.
The Pirates had the third-best ERA (3.26) in baseball last season. Though, he could still sign, they are likely losing an excellent A.J. Burnett, who will likely be replaced by Volquez. Regardless, the Pirates still have a lock-down bullpen, and because their books are in relatively good order, they will be prepared to add a starting pitcher at some point if the need arises.
The 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates will be a concrete team with plenty of Fantasy-relevant players and, in some cases, legitimate superstars. If everything goes as expected (which always a scary “if”), McCutchen will be near the top of MVP voting, Alvarez will hit over 40 home runs, Liriano will pitch like a true ace and Cole will build on his fantastic rookie season.
Skies are certainly blue over the Steel City for the foreseeable future.
David Kerr (@askROTObaseball) has been providing Fantasy Baseball advice for years and recently launched FantasySquads.com (@fantasysquads) as a hub for leagues, analysis, rankings and season-long insight.
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