The Pittsburgh Pirates are in a weird place. They have more talent than most and more young talent coming. They also have almost zero chance of competing with the Cubs in 2017 and a rotation full of question marks.
The most important questions will be how Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow develop as starting pitchers and whether Gerrit Cole becomes an actual ace. The other questions likely have less of an optimistic tone, at least for the pitching staff.
While the offense is more stable, it doesn't come without its own question marks. Later we'll discuss the prospects of Andrew McCutchen coming back and the expectations for phenom Josh Bell. We also have the issue of Jung Ho Kang. The Pirates seem to be optimistic about Kang being ready for the start of Spring Training, but he has a variety of legal hurdles with uncertain outcomes in front of him.
With all these question marks and uncertainty it's important not to overlook the things we do know. Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are both outstanding young outfielders who should be solid No. 2 outfielders. Marte should even be a No. 1 in Rotisserie leagues.
Those two are a great start, but the Pirates are going to need a lot of other things go right for them to be a playoff contender.
Is there hope for an Andrew McCutchen bounceback?
Judging by early ADP , it doesn't seem like anyone really thinks so. McCutchen is being drafted consistently in the fifth round or later after a disastrous 2016 campaign that just looks weird in so many ways. The first thing that stands out is McCutchen's .766 OPS, which was more than 100 points lower than any of the past four seasons. He also struck out at the highest rate of his career (21.2 percent) and had his lowest hard-contact rate (35.8 percent) since 2011.
Andrew McCutchen posted a .766 OPS last season. From 2011-15 he was at .905. What is his OPS in 2017?— Heath Cummings (@heathcummingssr) February 1, 2017
The thing is that McCutchen's K rate rose, but just to league average. His hard-hit rate fell, but it was still 10 percent better than league average. His line drive rate was also better than average. In other words, the .297 BABIP, which was 34 points below his career average, was a lot of bad luck. I would expect his .256 average to bounce back in a big way.
Considering his power numbers weren't that far off his career norms, that makes me feel comfortable with a small bounceback from McCutchen at the very least.
McCutchen won't get all the way back to who he was because he just doesn't run like he used to. That will hurt him, especially in Rotisserie leagues. How close he can get to his old self in points leagues will depend both on his ability to cut his strikeout rate and the semi-randomness of run production. He had just 160 runs and RBI combined in 2016. From 2012-2015 he averaged 186 per year.
McCutchen is a steal in the fifth round in either format, but the value is much better in points leagues now. I'd start looking at him in the fourth round in those formats.
Can Ray Searage work his magic with any of these mediocre starters?
I'm not talking about Gerrit Cole. I think he's going to be a solid No. 2 starter with No. 1 upside. It's also unfair to put Jameson Taillon or Tyler Glasnow in that category because we don't really know what they are yet. They could be anything. But Searage has built quite a reputation for turning mediocre or worse pitchers into serviceable starters. Let's take a look at the candidates.
Ivan Nova made 11 starts with the Pirates and did nothing to dispel the Searage legend. His 3.06 ERA was only overshadowed by his 2.62 FIP and 0.4 BB/9. This is a pitcher had averaged 3 BB/9 over his first 700+ innings. Searage works quickly. Still, I'm not sold that Nova's draftable in a standard mixed league. He still didn't strike anyone out and he doesn't have the stuff to pound the zone the way he did in 2016 and get away with it. He's a serviceable option in NL only and deeper leagues.
Nobody is drafting Chad Kuhl or Drew Hutchison in mixed leagues, but Hutchison is at least one that I could see keeping an eye on in NL only. He has shown the ability to miss bats in the past and had quite of bit of success in AAA in 2016.
What are the expectations for Josh Bell?
We're always fascinated by prospects, but Bell, with his power potential and outstanding plate discipline, is especially intriguing. He actually walked more than he struck out in his short big-league exposure, and his minor-league numbers will tell you that's not a fluke.
The scouts will also tell you that Bell has big power potential, but we didn't see much evidence of that in the minors. While he's still young enough that we could see that power develop, he's not that young. He's a month younger than Manny Machado. He's older than Bryce Harper and each of the past two American League rookies of the year.
I would expect good on-base numbers from Bell and decent run production if he lands a spot in the top of the order. I'm skeptical that we'll see a power surge, but it's worth betting a pick at the end of the draft on, especially in leagues with large benches.
Bell's recent knee procedure could change the math, but not by a lot. Early reports suggest that Bell should be ready by early March at the latest As long as that is the case I wouldn't let this bother you too much. With an inexperienced player like Bell, the Pirates (and Fantasy owners) crave the type of information a full Spring Training could provide but as long as he stays on his current timetable he should have plenty of time to get ready for the season.