Fantasy Baseball hasn’t been kind to the Pittsburgh Pirates over the years….or perhaps it’s the other way around? If you are one of the millions of fans who play Fantasy Baseball each season – and you wear a Jolly Roger next to the heart on your sleeve – you can probably count on one hand how many Buccos you have drafted in your fantasy career. With the exception of an occasional breakout year from a Jason Bay or Freddy Sanchez, the last true Pirates fantasy threat was Brian Giles. Giles had some of the best all-around fantasy seasons in the modern era while wearing the black and gold, and for a few years he was a top 15 pick in most fantasy drafts. On the pitching side, the Pirates have had some decent seasons from closers, but Bucco starting pitchers have rarely been able to help the fantasy realm.
Times, they are a changing.
As you prepare to hit your draft sometime over the next few weeks, chances are you have a few Pirates penciled in as targets for your prospective team. If you are in a “Keeper League” – leagues that maintain players and prospects year to year – you also have some young studs to consider. Of the players who will be starting the season on the farm, the Pirates have several that will be high draft picks in any keeper league. Starling Marte has established himself as a legitimate keeper candidate this spring, and of course Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole are ranked in the top 10 minor league pitchers for 2012. If any of those three are available in your keeper league, needless to say you should be jumping at the chance to add them.
On the major league roster, the Pirates boast one of the top overall hitters in fantasy baseball in CF Andrew McCutchen. With new contract in hand, “Cutch” seems to be on the verge of a breakout season. Very few players in baseball offer the power/speed package of McCutchen, so expect to ante up early if you plan on rostering him in your league. McCutchen has slowly climbed up the ladder on the ESPN and Yahoo! Mock Draft lists, indicating that he is being drafted higher as each day passes. He could easily become a 1st round pick by 2013, but for 2012 you should be able to wait until round 2 unless you are playing in a league with a bunch of Pirates fans. Also targeted to be in the top 10 at his position in 2012 is 2B Neil Walker. The second base category is very shallow for fantasy baseball this year, with only three true “studs” in Robinson Cano of the Yankees, Ian Kinsler of the Rangers, and Dustin Pedroia of Boston being considered 1st round talent. If Walker continues to improve and adds a consistent homerun ability to his already balanced game, he could become a real steal in 2012.
Other Pirates will bring you solid results in at least one statistical category. LF Jose Tabata may not be hitting for power, but he gets on base. Once he is on base, his real skill kicks in – speed. Tabata can be penciled in for 30+ stolen bases, and if he starts to develop power this season he could jump over many of the other players who qualify for outfield positions. Tabata was always considered a player who would eventually develop the homerun ability so coveted by fantasy owners, but we have yet to see that side of him. The jury is still out on 3B Pedro Alvarez, but after his woeful 2011 season, he is actually going undrafted in many leagues. Alvarez came to camp looking trim and has been hitting the ball with force the past week. If you can grab him late in your draft as a backup to your starter at third base, it could pay off for you. Many fans forget that players such as Aramis Ramirez and our old buddy Jose Bautista can sometimes take two or three seasons to truly figure out the major league game. Alvarez still has the pedigree that made him the Pirates 1st round pick, and with that dreadful 2011 on his back like a sack of gravel, he may be ready to breakout.
If you play in a National League-only player universe in your league, Pirates players such as Garrett Jones, Rod Barajas, and Clint Barmes offer good pop for their positions. Drafting Casey McGehee is a stretch, if only because his role on the team will be initially as a platoon player. McGehee had a fantastic fantasy season just two years ago in Milwaukee and could be in line to take over at third base if Alvarez falters out of the gate. Alvarez has options left, and the Pirates will not hesitate to send him down to Indianapolis if he gets off to a sluggish start this season. McGehee waiting in the wings may expedite that process.
If you are looking to roster some Pirates hurlers, you can grab closer Joel Hanrahan – easily one of the top 10 stoppers in the game. “The Hammer” should be good for 40 saves this season, and his K/IP numbers are great, as are his WHIP and ERA. Starting Pitchers may be a tough sell, since the most draft-worthy starter is out for at least 8-10 weeks. AJ Burnett – once healthy – should help your team with K’s and quality starts. The jury is still out on SP Erik Bedard, who has had injury problems that have spanned his entire career. If he is healthy, he is another pitcher who can bring heavy K/IP numbers with a low WHIP. Charlie Morton, James McDonald, and Jeff Karstens are all fantastic waiver wire pickups who can help your team in the right match-up. Watch for games these guys start against weaker hitting teams, or road games in San Diego or Los Angeles – where most pitchers put up good numbers due to the ballparks in those cities. Morton is a candidate to be a breakout if he can continue to induce ground balls and stay away from the walks that hindered him at times last season. Watch him closely over his first few starts and if he is pitching well and deep into games, pick him up.
The Pirates are on their way back to respectability in the real baseball world, and thus they are doing the same in the fantasy world. You’re going to be watching all of the Pirates games anyway, so why not draft a few Bucs? The 2012 season promises to be intriguing for Pirates fans, with a solid foundation and many exciting young players on their way to the big show. When you draft your team for 2012, go grab those Pirates players.
Tags: Andrew McCutchen Brian Giles Charlie Morton Clint Hurdle ESPN Fantasy Baseball Freddy Sanchez Garrett Jones Gerrit Cole James McDonald Jameson Taillon Jason Bay Jeff Karstens Joel Hanrahan Jose Tabata Neil Walker Pedro Alvarez Pirates Blog Pittsburgh Pirates Pittsburgh Pirates Blog Yahoo!