After making the playoff for three straight seasons, Pittsburgh lost their way in 2016. They finished 3rd in the NL Central with a 78-83-1 record. The Pirates allowed 162 more runs than 2015 (595) leading to a 9th place ranking in the National League in ERA (4.21). Their bullpen came in 11th in the majors in ERA (3.57) with 28 wins, 22 losses, and 51 saves. Before 2013, Pittsburgh missed the playoffs for 20 straight years.
In the offseason, the Pirates lost some of their bench depth – IF Sean Rodriguez and OF Matt Joyce. Setup man Neftali Feliz signed with the Reds, and SP Jeff Locke moved onto the Marlins. The only player that added value over the winter was RP Daniel Hudson.
Pittsburgh has improved offensively in each of the last three seasons. They scored 729 runs last year, which ranked 6th in the National League. They continue to struggle with HRs (153 – 12th).
The starting rotation has one ace plus a pair of arms with high upside. They have enough depth to be competitive at the back end of the staff as well. Pittsburgh will be in transition in the bullpen with at least three arms vying for the closer job.
The Pirates have three talented outfielders in the middle of their starting lineup plus a potential breakout player in 1B Josh Bell. They should score runs while home runs remain below the league average.
I expect a rebound in wins leading to potential playoff berth.
1. 2B Josh Harrison
Josh has been unable to repeat his power output of 2014 (13 HRs) over the last two seasons. His AVH (1.370) remains in weak area pointing to no real upside in power without a swing path change. In addition, his CTBA (.336) faded for the second straight year. Harrison has a low K rate (14.6) while taking minimal walks (3.5 percent). After hitting .329 over the first two months with two HRs, 25 RBI, and eight SBs over 170 at bats, Josh lost his swing in June and July (.204 with one HR, 17 RBI, and six SBs over 176 at bats). He finished the year on the uptick (.326 with a HR, 24 RBI, and five SBs over 141 at bats). Harrison suffered a groin injury in September, which ended his season. His HR/FB rate (2.7) has regressed in three straight seasons while his GB rate (44.3) is trending up. His skill set isn’t ideal to bat leadoff due to his inability to take walks, but he remains the top option. Josh works best as a middle infielder in deep leagues. At best, about 10 HRs with 20 SBs while offering in edge in batting average. His runs have a better chance of becoming an asset than his RBI.
2. OF Starling Marte
For the fifth straight season, Marte had regression in his AVH (1.467). He struggled with runners on base (12 percent RBI rate) while only coming to the plate with 314 runners on base. His K rate (19.7) came below his career average (19.7) for the second straight season while his walk rate (4.4) remains in a weak area. Starling battled a back injury in September, which limited him to 19 at bats for the month. Over the first three months of the season, he hit .331 with six HRs, 30 RBI, and 21 SBs over 278 at bats. Marte had the most success against righties (.315 with seven HRs, 41 RBI, and 41 SBs over 400 at bats). He continues to be a ground ball hitter (48.3 percent). Starling had a career low HR/FB rate (8.4). His swing path looked in line with his previous seasons. Marte is more of a number two hitter in this offense with a rebound in power expected. His high CTBA (.395) set the foundation with an edge in batting average. Possible 80+ runs, 15+ HRs, 65+ RBI, and 40+ SBs. Solid second piece to a winning franchise.
3. OF Andrew McCutchen
Andrew has 20 or more HRs over his last six seasons with 79 RBI in each year. His stolen base total (6) was a career low with three straight season of regression. McCutchen had a career high K rate (21.2), which has been trending up in his last three years. His walk rate (10.2) remains an asset while coming in as career low. Andrew played well below his skill set over the first four months of the season (.241 with 15 HRs, 43 RBI, and three SBs over 390 at bats). He regained his form over the last two months of the season (.284 with nine HRs, 36 RBI, and three SBs over 208 at bats). His swing faded against lefties (.229 with five HRs and 16 RBI over 109 at bats). McCutchen has hit fewer ground balls (35.8 percent – career low) in each of his last four seasons. He’s in the last year of his contract with the Pirates holding a $14.75 million option for 2018. Andrew should be motivated to rebound in 2017 and his speed should return to be part of his skill set. Solid .300 hitter who should deliver 90+ runs, 25+ HRs, 90+ RBI, and 15+ SBs. Excellent value as 20th outfielder off the table with an ADP of 68 in the early draft season in 15 team leagues.
4. OF Gregory Polanco
Polanco had a huge step forward in his AVH (1.794) leading to a career high in HRs (22). His K rate (20.3) faded slightly from 2015 (18.6) while his CTBA (.333) improved slightly. Greg will take a walk (9.0 percent). Over the first two months of the season, he hit .310 with eight HRs, 36 RBI, and seven SBs. His batting average regressed in each of his last four months (June – .272, July – .243, August – .221, and September – .191). In July and August, Polanco had 11 HRs and 35 RBI over 165 at bats. His swing path had improved over the last two seasons leading to regression in his GB rate (45.4 percent in 2015 and 38.8 in 2016) and a higher FB rate (37.1). Gregory moved his HR/FB rate to 14.4. Over six years in the minors, he hit .285 with 41 HRs, 289 RBI, and 143 SBs over 1769 at bats. His improvement in power and RBI rate gives him a chance to bat cleanup in 2017. Polanco should steal more bases based on his minor-league resume. Next step: .280 with 90+ runs, 25+ HRs, 100+ RBI, and 30+ SBs. Buying opportunity based on his early ADP (67) in 15 team leagues.
5. 1B Josh Bell
The Pirates cleared a path for Bell to get full time at bats in the majors in 2016 if he’s up to the task. Over five years in the minors, Josh hit .303 with 44 HRs, 285 RBI, and 23 SBs over 1856 at bats. His walk rate (9.9) projects to be an asset with a favorable K rate (14.4). His AVH (1.486) continues to be low for a player of his size. In the majors, Bell had more walks (21) than strikeouts (19). His K rate (12.5) and walk rate (13.8) both beat his minor-league resume. With almost full time at bats in September, he hit .258 with a HR and 11 RBI over 93 at bats. Josh had minor knee surgery in late January. They hope to have him ready for the middle of March. In the offseason, he’s tried to get in better shape. His swing continues to deliver a high volume of ground balls (50 percent). There’s talent here, but Bell needs to deliver power to be a Fantasy asset in 2017. I have a feeling he makes a nice step forward this season. I’m headed into draft day with the idea of a 20/80 season with a favorable batting average. Viable CO option in deep leagues with an ADP of 286 in the early draft seasons. Bell will offer sneaky speed as well.
6. 3B Jung Ho Kang
Kang missed the first month last year due to a slow recovery left knee injury that had surgery the previous September. When he returned in early May, his power hit the ground running. Over his first 144 at bats, Jung-Ho hit .257 with 11 HRs and 28 RBI. He failed to get full time at bats over six weeks in July and August (.220 with three HRs and 13 RBI over 91 at bats) before landing on the DL with a left shoulder injury. When Kang returned in September, he played his best ball of the season (.289 with seven HRs and 21 RBI over 83 at bats). Jung-Ho struggled vs. lefties (.209 with three HRs and 11 RBI over 67 at bats). His K rate (21.4) is slightly below the league average with growth in his walk rate (9.7). His success over two seasons in the majors projected over 550 at bats would be 78 runs, 27 HRs, and 89 RBI. His HR/FB rate (23.3) was much higher than 2015 (16.9). Exciting player with enough talent to bat cleanup in this lineup. Kang even has some speed on his resume in Korea (51 over 3070 at bats), which wasn’t relevant in 2016 due to his recovery with his knee issue. His one glaring negative is a third DUI in Korea. He enrolled in the MLB’s treatment program to hopefully put his life back on track. Jung-Ho could get suspended for part of the 2017 season. There’s a lot to like here if he plays a full season. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him grab the cleanup job and run with it. I’ll knock a month of playing time just in case so 80 runs, 25 HRs, and 80 RBI with some speed if fair evaluation. This is always the chance that he qualifies at shortstop in 2017.
7. C Francisco Cervelli
Cervelli turned in a Judy season for a catcher. His AVH (1.221) was extremely weak with regression in his CTBA (.339). He did battle multiple injury over course of the seasons (hand, wrist, foot, and concussion), which have zapped his power. Francisco had a plus walk rate (14.3) and his K rate (18.3) came in better than the league average. Last year it took him over 300 at bats to his only HR. Cervelli had a huge ground ball rate (56.0) with fade in back-to-back seasons. Over 1465 at bats in the majors, Francisco hit .280 with 18 HRs, 168 RBI, and 13 SBs. Low upside C2 with batting average being his only asset.
8. SS Jody Mercer
Mercer continues to improve as a player. He had career low K rate (14.2) and career walk rate (8.7) in 2016. His CTBA (.305) has been low in three straight years while his earlier resume suggested a little more upside in power based on his AVH (1.459). Jordy was the most productive in May, June, and July (.252 with nine HRs and 32 RBI over 262 at bats). His bat came up empty in May (.231 with no HRs and six RBI over 91 at bats) and August (.235 with one HR and eight RBI). Mercer has a ground ball swing (48.5 percent) with a boring HR/FB rate (7.9). At best, a 15/60 player with a chance at surprising in batting average with a jump in his CTBA.
BN: 3B David Freese
In 2012, Freese looked to be a rising star after hitting .293 with 20 HRs and 79 RBI over 501 at bats. He even earned two MVP awards in the 2011 playoffs. His lack of upside in power is tied to a poor swing path resulting in a huge ground ball rate (60.7 in 2016 and 53.2 in his career). His HR/FB rate (21.7) was a career high last year despite only hitting 20.3 percent fly balls. David had the most value against lefties (.337 with four HRs and 15 RBI over 92 at bats). Last year Freese didn’t have more than three HRs in any month. Veteran player with some clutch ability. He should be a decent cover for Josh Bell.
BN: 2B Alen Hanson
Over seven seasons in the minors, Alen hit .281 with 53 HRs, 316 RBI, and 205 SBs over 2843 at bats. He repeated AAA in 2016 while failing to show improvement. Over 907 at bats at AAA, Hanson hit .265 with 14 HRs, 75 RBI, and 71 SBs. His walk rate (7.5) is just below the league average with a favorable K rate (16.7). His AVH (1.461) has regressed in each of his last two seasons. With a higher CTBA (.325), Alen could be a viable option at the top of the batting order thanks to his speed. He needs to improve on his success rate (70.2).
C Chris Stewart – There isn’t a ton of excitement in Stewart resume. He hit .236 over 1038 at bats in the majors with nine HRs, 83 RBI, and six SBs. Chris had knee surgery last September. Backup option with minimal upside in playing time.
1B John Jaso – The Pirates gave Jaso plenty of at bats (380) to prove his worth in 2016. He only hit .268 with eight HRs and 42 RBI. John had an above average walk rate (10.4) while falling below his career average (12.2). His best chance at bats may come from behind the plate something he hasn’t done over the last two seasons. His only value with be a short-term injury cover.
IF Adam Frazier – Over four seasons in the minors, Adam hit .299 with three HRs, 121 RBI, and 47 SBs over 1354 at bats. He’s tough to strikeout (10.6) with a league average walk rate (8.2). Possible backup infielder with minimal upside in the counting categories.
1. SP Gerrit Cole
Cole threw the ball well over his first 12 starts (2.77 ERA), but he allowed more hits (70) than innings pitched (68.1). He landed on the DL in June for five weeks with a triceps injury. Gerrit repeated his form over his first four starts after returning from the DL (2.45 ERA and 22 Ks over 25.2 innings). His arm lost all value over his next four starts (17 runs and 41 base runners over 21.2 innings) due to a right elbow issue. His AFB (95.9) was a step down from 2015 (96.5). Cole only had success with his curveball (.204 BAA). In 2015, batters hit .200 vs. his slider compared .273 in 2016. His GB rate (45.6) was a career low. Gerrit struggled against lefties (.329 with three HRs over 213 at bats), which was well below his 2016 success (.227). Over four years in the majors, Cole has a 47-30 record with a 3.23 ERA and 538 Ks over 579.1 innings. His K rate (7.6) was a career low while his walk rate (2.8) was a career high. I don’t like the two bouts with injuries. It could be a sign of TJ surgery shortly. Possible undervalued ace with an ADP of 117 in 15 team league in the early draft season. I’m a bit gun-shy, but a clean spring could sway me to add him as the third ace. Sub 3.00 ERA ability with 200+ K potential.
2. SP Jameson Taillon
In 2014, he blew out his right elbow late in spring training, which led to TJ surgery in April. In late May in 2015, his fastball was clocked in the high 90s as he was working his way back from his elbow issue. His season ended in late June after developing an inguinal hernia that required surgery. Taillon pitched great over ten starts at AAA (4-2 with a 2.04 ERA and 61 Ks in 61.2 innings) leading to a call-up to the majors. Over 18 starts with Pittsburgh, Jameson pitched at a high level (3.38 ERA) with an elite walk rate (1.5). He did have risk with HRs at times (13 over 104 innings). He had an ERA under 4.00 in each month with the Pirates while pitching his best after the All-Star break (3.20 ERA with 64 Ks over 76 innings). Taillon struggled a bit with LH batters (.269). His AFB (95.0) offered an edge. Batters struggled to hit his changeup (.135 BAA) and curveball (.181 BAA). He needs to improve on his command of his fastball (four-seam – .286 BAA and sinker – 3.09 BAA and .525 SLG). Over four years in the minors, Jameson had a 3.49 ERA with 417 Ks over 443.2 innings. With 165.2 innings under his belt in 2016, he should be ready to throw over 200 innings this year. In 2016, Taillon only pitched into the seven innings in three of his 18 starts. His only negative was a sore right shoulder in early July. With repeated command, a sub 3.00 ERA looks to be in the cards with a floor of 175 Ks.
3. SP Ivan Nova
The Yankees couldn’t get rid of Nova fast enough after blowing up in July (7.52 ERA, 1.785 WHIP, and seven HRs allowed over 26.1 innings). Over 21 games with New York, he had a 4.90 ERA with 75 Ks over 97.1 innings. Ivan was an entirely different pitcher with Pittsburgh. He had a much improved first pitch rate (66.9 – 58.4 percent with the Yankees) leading to a huge step forward in his walk rate (0.4). Over his first eight starts in the NL, Nova went 5-3 with a 2.41 ERA with 43 Ks over 52.1 innings. He lost his way over his next two starts (seven runs and 18 base runners over seven innings). Overall, Ivan had losing value against lefties (.306 with 10 HRs allowed over 278 at bats). His AFB (93.4) was line with his career resume. Batters only hit .196 against his curveball. The only change from his time in New York and Pittsburgh was improved value of his four-seam fastball (.469 in NY and .200 in PIT), but Nova only threw his four-seamer 12 percent of the time on the season. Solid curveball, but it can’t offer a winning edge with getting ahead in the count. The move to the NL is a positive for sure, and the Pirates have one of the better pitching coaches (Ray Searage) in the league. I’ll use 2013 as my reference point – double-digit wins with a 3.50 ERA and 150 Ks.
4. SP Tyler Glasnow
It looks like it is show time for Glasnow in 2017. Over five years in the minors, he has a 36-19 record with a 2.03 ERA and 645 Ks over 500 innings. Batters only have 297 hits. His walk rate (4.4) is his only liability. Tyler had no problem at AAA in 2016 (8-3 with a 1.87 ERA and 133 Ks over 110.2 innings). The Pirates gave him four starts and three relief appears in the majors last season. He issued a few more walks (5.0 per nine) with a step back in his K rate (9.3). Glasnow struggled with lefties (.308 with eight walks and nine Ks over 47 plate appearances). His AFB came in at 93.9. He throws a plus curveball (.205 BAA), and a show-me changeup. The bottom line here is that Glasnow is tough to hit with even more upside if/when he throws more strikes. I’d like to see a third pitch of value so help batters get off his fastball. Impact arm with WHIP risk early in his career. Last season he threw 140 innings, which gives him a chance at 180 in 2017. I fully expect a winning ERA with 175+ Ks. Possible difference maker.
5. SP Drew Hutchison
Over four years in the majors, Drew has a 30-21 record despite a losing ERA (4.93). He failed to make the Blue Jays starting rotation out of spring training leading to a long season at AAA. Hutchison finished with a 3.59 ERA in the minors with 138 Ks over 138 innings while his walk rate (3.3) remained below his career minor league resume (2.7). Drew pitched well in his minor-league career (3.08 ERA and 430 Ks over 412 innings). Over nine appearances in the majors in 2016, he had a 5.25 ERA with 22 Ks over 24 innings. His drawing card is his command in the big leagues (2.8 walk rate and 8.3 K rate). His AFB (92.4) had less life in 2016 (93.1 in 2015). Hutchison flashed a winning slider (.229 BAA) and low volume changeup (.182 BAA). A full offseason with a new pitching coach should improve his arm in 2017. Pittsburgh has multiple arms vying for the 5th starting job. Drew is a backend pitcher to keep an eye on if he wins a starting job out of spring training. Possible 3.75 ERA with 175 Ks in a full season of starts.
6. SP Chad Kuhl
Kuhl has impressive minor league resume (33-17 with a 2.75 ERA and 300 Ks over 445 innings). His low K rate (6.1) gives a Fantasy owner the appearance that he’s a soft tosser, but his AFB (93.8) had more life than expected in the majors. Chad flashed a plus walk rate (2.1) in the minors. Over his first nine starts in the majors, he had a 3.70 ERA with 32 Ks over 48.1 innings. In July, Kuhl did leave a minor-league game with a triceps issue that turned out to be minor. Possible front runner for the 5th starting job, but Hutchison has the edge in major league experience. I like his arm, but he lacks upside in Ks. I fully expect a playable ERA when he’s on the mound with Pittsburgh.
7. SP Steven Brault
Over four years in the minors, Brault has a 27-21 record with a 2.74 ERA and 373 Ks over 420.1 innings. His walk rate (2.5) is an area of strength, but it did fade at AAA (4.4) and in the majors (4.6). Over his first five starts in the majors, Steven had a 3.38 ERA before struggling over his last three appearances (nine runs and 25 base runners over 9.1 innings). Overall, Brault was tentative in the majors which can be seen by his weak first-pitch strike rate (48.2). His AFB (91.8) is below league average. His secondary stuff grades as league average at best so Steve needs to throw strikes to offer any upside at the next level.
CL Tony Watson
Watson earned a chance in the 9th inning after Mark Melancon was traded in July. He responded to convert 15 of 18 saves over the last two months of the season while pitching poorly in September (5.06 ERA). Tony was very good against both RH (.216) and LH (.211) batters, but he did allow eight of his nine HRs to righties. Over six seasons with the Pirates, Watson had a 2.56 ERA with 345 Ks over 386.1 innings. He did struggle with HRs (10 over 67.2 innings) in 2016 with a step back in his walk rate (2.7). His AFB (94.0) has declined in the last two seasons (2014 – 95.6 and 2015 – 94.8). Tony throws a changeup (.135 BAA) as his out pitch followed by a low volume slider (.136). Certainly looks capable of keeping the job all season, but he’ll be a free agent in 2018. Viable second closer with the Pirates expected to play many close games. The rise in HRs and slide in command could point to a possible arm injury.
RP Juan Nicasio
Nicasio was the spring training darling in the high-stakes market in 2016. He went from undrafted to a mid-teen pick after throwing 15 shutout innings in March with 24 Ks. Juan earned himself a starting job with the Pirates. In April, he had a 3.33 ERA over 27 innings with 29 Ks. His stuff began to fade in May (6.75 ERA) before bottoming out in June (7.08 ERA). Nicasio looked electric in the bullpen over the next two months (2.73 ERA with 46 Ks over 33 innings). He did fade a bit in September (4.08 ERA). Juan held an edge against RH batters (.235) while his disaster side came vs. lefties (.291 with 13 HRs allowed over 206 at bats – .568 SLG). His AFB (94.4) wasn’t as strong as 2015 (95.7) when Nicasio pitched exclusively in the bullpen. The only pitch that offers upside with his four-seam fastball (.240). Possible upside with improved command (3.4 walks per nine), but Juan needs to figure out LH batters and improve his secondary stuff.
I must admit I thought Hudson was poised to steal the closing job for the Diamondbacks in 2016. Over the first two months of the seasons, Daniel had a 1.31 ERA with 15 Ks over 20.2 innings. He extended his success over nine appearances in June (two runs and three hits allowed over 8.1 innings), but his arm imploded over his next 15 games (26 runs and 40 base runners over 9.2 innings). Somehow Daniel rebounded for a strong September (1.54 ERA and 16 Ks over 11.2 innings). His AFB (96.7) had plenty of life, but batters hit .271 against it. Hudson still throws a upside slider (.208 BAA) while losing the feel for his changeup (.375 BAA). His minor-league resume (2.89 ERA) suggested he had more upside. His fastball is strong enough to close, but he needs to find the guile to pitch in the 9th. The Pirates pitching coach may unlock the keys to his success.
Baseball America Prospect Handbook. (n.d.).
Baseball-Reference. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.baseball-reference.com/
Brooksbaseball.net. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.brooksbaseball.net/
Fangraphs. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.fangraphs.com/
Roster Resource. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rosterresource.com/mlb
Rotowire. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rotowire.com/
RotoWorld. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rotoworld.com/
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