NL Central: STL
The Pirates haven’t added anyone to their offense, despite finishing third in the division. The team still has fantasy stars, but one may be falling.
The Pittsburgh Pirates rose from the ashes of the National League Central with three consecutive second-place finishes from 2013 to 2015 before falling back down to earth last season. The pitching staff struggled, while the offense tried to carry this team.
Unfortunately, the team lost a few key pieces in the rotation and didn’t sign anyone to replace then. Jeff Locke and Ryan Vogelsong both signed elsewhere this offseason.
Relief pitcher Neftali Feliz also signed with another team, but the Pirates were able to fill his shoes with a good replacement. They were able to re-sign a pitcher that likely turned his career around when he was traded to Pittsburgh.
Speaking of the offense, there were some solid pieces, but not many were fantasy relevant. I do have six Pirates hitter ranked inside my top 300, while five pitchers are ranked. The offense had just three 20-home run hitters and no batter reached 90 RBI.
The lack of power doesn’t help the hitters’ fantasy values. This forced owners to push them down in the rankings in favor of some more powerful hitters. Pittsburgh’s offense features some hitters with good averages to compliment the power guys.
PNC Park doesn’t help hitters with home runs, ranked 25th, but help in runs and hits. Looking at the offense’s stats, that makes a lot of sense. It does help the pitching staff as they limit the long ball, as long as their skills are up to par.
Of the top seven pitchers in starts, four of them are no longer on the team. This is a catch-22 for the Pirates. On one side, they lose experience in the rotation. On the other, though, it makes room for new pitchers to prove themselves.
According to Roster Resource, the starting five are Gerrit Cole, re-signed Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, and Steven Brault. I think one of those last two is likely to use their spot to Tyler Glasnow.
Cole, my No. 21 starting pitcher, had a down season after an All-Star 2015 campaign. He went 7-10 with a 3.88 ERA and 1.440 WHIP. His strikeout rate went down and his walk rate went up. I am confident Cole will bounce back nicely and be the top-20 pitcher he was in 2015.
I talked about Nova’s return to the Pirates here and think he is a sleeper pick, currently ranked at No. 63.
Taillon had the best ratio stats with a 3.38 ERA and 1.115 WHIP in 18 starts. He ranks slightly higher than Nova and has upside. The lack of strikeouts hurts his value, but he keeps hitters off the bases. If he can make 30 starts, he could make it into my top-40.
Kuhl and Brault are not worth mentioned, outside of this sentence.
Glasnow didn’t pitch well in seven games, 4.24 ERA, and 1.500 WHIP. However, 24 strikeouts in 23.1 innings is nice to see. He is my No. 79 pitcher, which means he’s only draftable in NL-only, 16-team or dynasty leagues.
The Pirates develop their bullpen well. After a couple of seasons of Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh will continue with longtime set-up man Tony Watson as the closer.
Watson has a career 2.56 ERA, 1.035 WHIP, and 8.0 K/9. Those numbers would be lower if he pitched a little better last season. He had a 3.06 ERA and 1.064 WHIP. Watson was able to record 15 saves after Melancon was traded to Washington.
The 31-year-old relief pitcher is my No. 16 closer.
The Pirates added Daniel Hudson to their bullpen, and I talked about the move here. He hasn’t pitched well in the last three seasons, but he will benefit from getting out of Arizona.
As I mentioned in the intro, the Pirates infield is good. Yet, there isn’t anyone I’m excited to draft.
Catcher Francisco Cervelli is my No. 16 catcher. He hit just one home run, 33 RBI, and .264 in 101 games. My hope is that he can get back to his 2015 performance with a .295 average.
Josh Bell will play first base. He played in just 45 games. The small sample size doesn’t give me enough information to what kind of hitter he will be. My colleague Brad Kelly thinks he will be a player to watch this season.
Josh Harrison is my No. 20 second baseman, despite hitting .283 with 19 steals. You don’t need two second basemen in standard leagues. He is a utility player at best.
Jung-ho Kang hit 21 home runs and 62 RBI with a .255 average. He’s my No. 18 third baseman. The power is nice, but the average hurts his value, similar to other Pittsburgh hitters.
Shortstop Jordy Mercer showed some bright spots in his game, but his 2016 overall was a disappointment. He hit 1 home runs, 59 RBI and .256. With the position growing, I found no room for Mercer in my position rankings.
As the teaser said, all three Pirates outfielders rank inside my top 15.
Starling Marte comes in as my No. 6 outfielder. While he doesn’t have power, just nine home runs, he hit .311 with 47 steals in 59 chances. Contact and speed separate him from some of the outfielders ahead of him.
Andrew McCutchen, even with his down season, is my No. 13 outfielder. His .256 average was the worst of his career. He was still able to hit 24 home runs and 79 RBI. The Pirates were talking about trading McCutchen, but until they do, he will be a consistent member of this outfield.
Gregory Polanco isn’t too far behind at No. 15. Kelly wrote about Polanco as a breakout candidate. He also wrote that owners should draft him ahead of Marte. I don’t agree with him. Polanco has more power, but I usually draft my power early with either my first baseman, third baseman or outfielder.
Polanco finds himself as a fifth-round pick, but for what he does, I think it’s a little too early. As a seventh or eighth rounder, I would be more comfortable drafting him. I could be completely wrong at the end of the season, too.
I wouldn’t be upset with one or two of these outfielders on my roster. They are just a little too similar to numbers for me to be excited about it.
The Pirates have productive players on both sides of the ball. They just aren’t worth drafting outside of the first 100 players, except for Cole and the outfielders.
Nova would be a steal if he can do what he did in the second half. Glasnow will be the prospect everyone is waiting for. Watson is a top-20 closer. The infield is the only weak part of this team, from a fantasy perspective.
Draft them with caution.