Team-by-team outlooks

It's the Pirates. If you're looking for Fantasy gems here, you're obviously new to this game.

Yes, Zach Duke is a third-year starting pitcher breakout candidate and Jason Bay would be a future MVP if he played for a team in a bigger market, but the Pirates traditionally manage to make a mess of good things.

Example 1: Remember the disappointment after snagging promising young arms Duke and Paul Maholm last spring? Coming off their late run(s) in 2005, they cost a pretty penny last March in Fantasy -- only to produce pretty much nothing for most of the season.

Example 2: Manager Jim Tracy says punchless shortstop Jack Wilson is his No. 2 hitter when reigning NL batting champ Freddy Sanchez profiles as an ideal two-man. Wilson should take his struggling-to-get-on-base act to the eight-hole, not near the top of everything. Also, Bay should be hitting third, not cleanup, which would give him at least 75 more plate appearances over the course of a season. Batting even one spot lower can cost Bay as many as six homers, 20 RBI and 20 runs.

Example 3: The trade for Adam LaRoche adds pop to the lineup and potentially (finally) protects Bay, but then Tracy comes out and says LaRoche might not bat behind Bay after all. He said he could split them up. Go figure.

Lineup-wise, we see them coming to their senses. But historically speaking (the past decade plus of the Fantasy generation), Pirates are like a four-letter word to Fantasy owners.

Spring position battles

Third/second base -- Jose Bautista vs. Jose Castillo

This is a 3-for-2 battle with Sanchez starting full time at third or second, depending on who the Pirates want in the other spot. Bautista has more power potential -- good enough to carry him as a third baseman -- while Castillo has decent run-production potential for the second-base position. Sanchez will be picked up in many mixed leagues in the middle rounds because of his 2006 average and versatility, but we're warning you right now he's a potential Bill Mueller bust. He won a battling title, too, and wound up being relatively worthless Fantasy-wise the next season. Sanchez is a similar case because of his lack of power (at least as far as a prototype 3B goes) and he will have to hit .340 just to be worth what you're going to have to pay to get him on Draft Day. With that said, Sanchez is far more of a mixed-league viable player than either Bautista or Castillo. Consider them NL-only sleepers, depending on who wins the job. Going in, we have to give it to the incumbent, Castillo.

Starting pitcher Nos. 4-5 -- Tony Armas and Tom Gorzelanny vs. Shawn Chacon, Yoslan Herrera, Sean Burnett, Shane Youman

Armas (shoulder) is in, if healthy, leaving the last spot to the talented young left Gorzelanny, an unproven Cuban import in Herrera and a couple of older guys in Burnett and Youman. Burnett was once intriguing as a long-term keeper, but his so-so success in Triple-A and 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate limits his potential now. Starting a back-end guy from the lowly Pirates -- heck, sometimes even their front-end guys -- will not be good for your Fantasy team. Avoid them at all costs in most leagues.

Closer -- Salomon Torres vs. Matt Capps, John Grabow, Damaso Marte, Jonah Bayliss and Josh Sharpless

This job should be all Torres' -- at least initially. Capps, Bayliss and Sharpless are long-term keeper options for their potential to be a closer down the road, while Grabow and Marte are more situational lefties. Whoever the Pirates closer is, he will be nothing more than a fill-in closer in Fantasy leagues. Mike Gonzalez was perfect last season -- yet saved only 23 games. None of these guys will come close to perfect.

Pittsburgh Pirates Outlook
Projected lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Chris Duffy CF 1 Zach Duke LH
2 Jack Wilson SS 2 Ian Snell RH
3 Freddy Sanchez 3B 3 Paul Maholm LH
4 Jason Bay LF 4 Tony Armas RH
5 Adam LaRoche 1B 5 Tom Gorzelanny LH
6 Xavier Nady RF Alt Shawn Chacon RH
7 Ronny Paulino C Top bullpen arms
8 Jose Castillo 2B CL Salomon Torres RH
Top bench options SU Matt Capps RH
R Jose Bautista 3B/OF RP John Grabow LH
R Ryan Doumit 1B/OF RP Damaso Marte LH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2006 high Destination
1 Andrew McCutchen 20 CF Double-A Double-A
Similar to Lastings Milledge: Could arrive quickly but blossom later
2 Neil Walker 21 C Double-A Double-A
Injury-plagued year and Ronny Paulino's arrival slow him up
3 Josh Sharpless 26 RH RP Majors Majors
There is some closer potential here, but will have to wait on it
4 Rajai Davis 27 OF Majors Triple-A
Projects as a reserve, but steals speed might help in NL-only
5 Yoslan Herrera 25 RH SP DNP (Cuba) Triple-A
Cuban import has starter potential, but needs time in minors
Best of the rest: LHP Shane Youman, 27; RHP Jonah Bayliss, 26; SS Brian Bixler, 24; RHP Todd Redmond, 21; RHP John Van Benschoten, 26; RHP Bryan Bullington, 26; RHP Brad Lincoln, 21; LHP Josh Shortslef, 25; 1B Steven Pearce, 23; OF Brad Corley, 23; LHP Mike Felix, 21.

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