10 Pittsburgh Pirates You Might Actually Want on Your Fantasy Team
Imagine if fantasy baseball (and to a lesser extent, the Internet) existed in 1992.
(Not counting the old-school rotisserie-style leagues that required newspaper box scores and a commissioner with more free time than Ryan Braun almost had.)
If you were a Pirates fan drafting a team 20 years ago, you would've had plenty of chances to snag fellas you could watch at Three Rivers Stadium. There was a .300 hitter with 25-homer potential (Bobby Bonilla), a perennial 20-20 threat (Andy Van Slyke), an ace starter (Doug Drabek) and the possible No. 1 overall pick (skinny Barry Bonds).
Since then, however, drafting a Bucco to your fantasy team would have been largely, well, ill-advised.
But for the first time in two decades, things are looking up in the Steel City. You probably don't want more than one of these guys on your squad at once, but at least drafting a Pirate finally might not be a recipe for self-destruction.
10. Casey McGehee (1B/3B)
If Casey gets at-bats, it probably means bad news for the Bucs.
That's not because McGehee—one the Pirates' mildly underwhelming offseason adds—is all that bad. Well, he was all that bad last season with the Brewers, when he bottomed out with career lows in home runs (13) and average (.223).
But he's only a year removed from a 23-homer, 104-RBI breakout in 2010.
The issue is that McGehee's opportunities hinge on the success or failure of third baseman Pedro Alvarez (who couldn't even crack .200 last year) and first baseman Garrett Jones (who is deathly allergic to left-handed pitching).
Still, the Pirates say they want him in a part-time platoon with Jones, and that could be worth about 15 homers and 50 RBIs—decent for desperate NL-only owners or the wildly optimistic.
9. Clint Barmes (SS)
It's been a minute since Barmes was useful in fantasy (in a universe where "a minute" equals three years).
He's brutally slow for a shortstop, he's only topped a dozen homers once in his nine-year career, and he's been on the wrong side of .250 pretty much forever.
But he'll be reunited with manager Clint Hurdle—who guided Barmes and the Rockies to the 2007 World Series -- and his only real competition for playing time is sophomore Chase d'Arnaud (who had an even worse average in 48 games last season).
Nobody will again be fooled into thinking Barmes can replicate his career-year numbers of 2009, but there's enough room in left field at PNC Park for him to drop in a decent number of singles and settle in as a respectable middle infielder in NL-only leagues.
Unless your league counts strikeouts against you, in which case, you'd be better off hoping someone can nudge Jay Bell out of retirement.
8. Garrett Jones (1B/OF)
If only all the pitchers in the world were righties.
Jones tricked more than a few fantasy owners into picking him up early last season after belting five homers in April. But most of those owners likely only endured his streakiness through July (at most), when Jones ran into a 1-for-23 slump.
But he spent most of 2011 in a three-way platoon in right field and intermittently filled in at first for Lyle Overbay and then Derrek Lee.
He'll probably still see time in the outfield, but the Pirates would love to see Jones take over first base full-time and approach his 30-homer ability—and he'll be given every opportunity to do so.
Just not against lefties.
7. Alex Presley (OF)
If you don't live in Pittsburgh and/or shifted attention to fantasy football late last season, this might be the first you've heard of Alex Presley.
But after filling in for leadoff man Jose Tabata at the end of June, Presley was arguably one of the most electric players on the Bucs. He hit just shy of .300, had a knack for getting on base and added nine stolen bases in 52 games.
Unless Nate McLouth wakes up thinking it's 2008, Presley should get the job in left field along with the chance to prove himself from opening day. He'll either hit first or between Tabata and Andrew McCutchen, and that's not the worst place in the world.
He won't hit for power, but his speed could make him an unexpected source of runs and stolen bases. When everybody else is mailing in their final few draft picks with the likes of Kosuke Fukudome and Jonny Gomes, you could do worse than Presley's upside.
6. A.J. Burnett (SP)
Burnett has had his ups and downs.
While the Yankees grew tired of his maddening inconsistency, the Pirates can afford to roll the dice. If Kevin Correia can win 12 games in black and gold, why can't a guy with proven 200-K ability?
(As long as he doesn't try bunting again.)
It's unlikely the 35-year-old Burnett will approach that plateau this year or ever again. But the move to the Senior Circuit, to the top of a hungry rotation in a relatively pitcher-friendly park, could bring out the best in Burnett.
You don't want to pay for the name (after all, the Pirates didn't). But just like the Bucs figured, his occasional brilliance could be worth a (late-round) flier.
5. Pedro Alvarez (3B)
Things admittedly could've gone better.
Hopes were high on Pedro Alvarez going into last season, what with him smacking 16 homers and driving in 64 runs in a little under 350 at-bats in 2010.
But his sophomore campaign was about as miserable as miserable gets. Alvarez hit just .191 with four home runs and spent much of the summer with AAA Indianapolis.
The Pirates thought winter ball would do him a world of good, but Pedro said, "Thanks, but no thanks."
Still, GM Neal Huntington says the rest was actually what Alvarez needed. He's never gonna lead the league in batting, but if he manages to put the bat on the ball, he's still got the ability to hit 30 dingers and 80 to 90 RBIs as soon as this year.
If that doesn't happen, however, another demotion could be in the cards, and he'll soon only be available in fantasy drywall installation leagues.
4. Erik Bedard (SP)
The Pirates definitely needed a southpaw on the mound, and they're basically renting one for a year.
The problem with Bedard is that he spends more time on the trainer's table.
Often injured but occasionally brilliant, he's a safe bet for a K/9 ratio around 8.5 (at the very least) and consistently posts impressive peripherals if he's healthy.
He sat out all of 2010 with shoulder issues, but did manage 24 starts last year (his most in four years), so there's hope on the horizon.
As with all Pittsburgh pitchers, you'll have to temper your expectations for wins, but he's got about as much upside as you can find in an injury-prone 32-year-old playing for his third team in two years.
3. Neil Walker (2B)
He's no Robinson Cano, but he's no Maicer Izturis, either.
Fantasy owners tend to overlook Neil Walker due to his distinct lack of sexiness and his home address, but the kid is a consistent contributor. He was fourth among second basemen last year in RBIs with an impressive 83 (one more than slugger Dan Uggla) and seventh in average.
He won't steal many bases or hit many out, but he'll either hit fourth or fifth in a lineup that's legitimizing by the minute.
Unless you're in a 16-team or NL-only league, he'll likely start the season on your bench. But his steady production means he might not end the season there.
2. Joel Hanrahan (RP)
It's Fantasy 101 that you never pay for closers.
Joel Hanrahan is your case study.
An afterthought in most drafts, he was a revelation last year—complete with his own intimidating Slipknot walk-on music and all.
He'd flashed signs of dominance in the past, but nothing like this. He was one of only eight closers with 40 saves, and his 1.83 ERA and 1.05 WHIP were career bests during his first All-Star season.
When a team struggles to score runs, the only guy (not in the other uniform) who benefits is the closer. After all, you can't record a save if you win by six—and the Pirates rarely do.
1. Andrew McCutchen (OF)
It's about time.
The Pirates haven't had a player this exciting since Jason Bay—and, let's face it, Jason Bay is the antithesis of exciting.
Andrew McCutchen was already a hot fantasy commodity going into last season and widely touted as a 30-30 threat just waiting to happen. Instead, he went 23-23 (which is a far less glamorous club) and saw his average dip from .286 to .259 as he and the Bucs faded down the stretch.
Still, he led the team in basically every offensive statistic except doubles and singles (that would be Neil Walker), and McCutchen is the unquestioned centerpiece.
He's probably around a third-round pick, but if he cuts down on the strikeouts and his tweaked stance sticks he could provide second-round value.
Now if he could just provide Pittsburgh fans with an end to the Pirates' 19-year losing streak. Unfortunately, your league probably doesn't have a stat category for that either way.