We at Razzball realize that exporting our views across the country has damaging consequences on the blogosphere. To help make amends, we are reaching out to leading team blogs and featuring their locally blogged answers to pressing 2014 fantasy baseball questions regarding their team. We feel this approach will be fresher, more sustainable, and require less energy consumption (for us anyway). The 2014 Pirates Fantasy Baseball Preview comes courtesy of Pat Lackey from Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke?.
1) Despite striking out 30% of the time and a nasty .233 batting average, Pedro Alvarez provided fantasy owners with plenty of pop as he crushed 36 home runs last season. What’s your take on the Pirates slugger and would you take the over on 35 dingers in 2014?
The honest truth is that Alvarez’s strikeout rate really terrifies me. The 36 home runs are nice (and they’re all fun to watch because the dude is STRONG), but his power production the last two years only just barely outweighs his incredible strikeout rate and inability to get on base. I suppose since he’s got a blue-chip pedigree, there’s always a chance that his eye will develop a bit more (he’ll be 27 next week) and that will make him a more rounded hitter, but I’m always scared that he’s going to turn into a Mark Reynolds pumpkin at any moment. I don’t know that that’ll necessarily happen in 2014, mind you (most of the projection systems seem to think he can keep going at his .240/.300/.470 pace with 30-35 homers), it’s just that Alvarez’s potential regression is one of the things that keeps me up at night.
2) Along with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco is yet another talented young outfielder the Pirates have in their organization. What do you see Polanco contributing to the Pirates and fantasy teams this season?
I suspect that we won’t see Polanco until mid-summer at the earliest this year (you can look at how the Pirates handled Marte and his July 26th debut as a guide, I think), though it’s possible that Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, and Polanco himself could all change this timetable in the sort of way that Wandy Rodriguez‘s injury forced Gerrit Cole into the rotation a little bit earlier than the Pirates would’ve liked last summer. On the one hand, I’ll tell you that I’m really excited about Polanco. I just watched a video of him beating out a grounder to second for a single this morning and you can see from that video that he’s a BIG kid who’s power has really developed over the last two years. Maybe the most exciting aspect of his game is that he’s a young Dominican prospect who doesn’t have the plate discipline problems of a player like, for example, Starling Marte. In 68 Double-A games as a 21-year old last year, he drew as many walks as strikeouts. Can you tell I’m practically drooling over here? Is it obvious that I’m upset that Indianapolis’s trip to Durham isn’t until after Polanco’s likely to be called up?
My only caveat here is that Polanco’s obviously very young and likely to be a bit raw when he’s called up this year. I think his defense particularly and probably his speed will help the Pirates whenever he’s called up, but I think it’s probably unfair to expect a ton of power right off the bat and it seems reasonable that he could struggle a bit at the plate at first. In short: I’m really excited about his long-term potential and I think he’ll be a useful player for the Pirates in 2014, but if you’re talking about him for 2014 only fantasy purposes, I’d be cautious and wait to see how his Triple-A numbers look, at least.
3) What are some reasons fantasy owners should be buying Gerrit Cole in 2014? What other Pirates pitchers should we have on our radars?
The case for Gerrit Cole is pretty straight forward. In September, the Pirates unshackled him and went nuts: 39 strikeouts in 32 innings against 10 walks, 24 hits, and only six runs with a .524 OPS against. The Pirates have worked hard with him to help him beat the “flat fastball” rap that he got in college and the low minors and now he’s got a heavy two-seamer that he can throw 94-96 and mix with his four-seamer, which tops out at 100+. As a result he had a 49% ground ball rate as a rookie, when he wasn’t projected as a ground ball guy at all in the minors. Cole struggled with commanding those secondary pitches at times both in the big leagues and in Triple-A last year, so I don’t want to act like it’ll be all smooth sailing in 2014, but the sky is certainly the limit here.
As for other pitchers, I think that Francisco Liriano will probably have another strong year in 2014. I feel queasy even knowing that I’m hoping for/counting on that, but he’s such a good fit for PNC Park and he made such big strides last year that I think he’ll be good again in his contract year this year. Wandy Rodriguez and Charlie Morton will probably be solid enough when healthy (which is certainly a concern in Rodriguez’s case), but I don’t know what kind of fantasy value they’ll really have. Edinson Volquez is a wild card, of course. If you believe in the Pirates’ coaching staff, I guess it’s possible that he’ll have a resurgence this year similar to Liriano’s last year. I’m pretty dubious of this for a number of reasons (he doesn’t have the underlying peripherals that A.J. Burnett did when he came to the Pirates and he doesn’t have the left-handed groundball-heavy profile that fits into PNC Park like a glove the way Liriano does). If AJ Burnett does come back, I think he’ll have another good year. I have no idea if that’s going to happen, though I suspect at this point that it probably won’t.
In the bullpen, I’m a bit wary of Jason Grilli because of last year’s elbow injury. He clearly wasn’t quite 100% when he came back, but if his velocity is back up to around 94 early in the year then he should be fine for one more year as closer. If not, I expect that Mark Melancon will get over his late-season struggles pretty easily and be a strong option to close if Grilli can’t get the job done.
Beyond that, it’s worth watching Jameson Taillon‘s progress at Triple-A this year. He should be on a fairly similar schedule to Cole last year (as mentioned above, Cole’s debut probably came earlier than the Pirates wanted it last summer, so I’d look for Taillon closer to July), but I think we’ll see him in black and gold at some point. It’s worth noting that the Pirates will likely control his pitch selection similar to the way they did with Cole last year, so it’s possible that his Triple-A numbers won’t be overwhelming, but that that won’t necessarily mean he’s not ready. Certainly, the talent is there.
4) Grey has a line of 71/12/54/.249/5 projected for Jordy Mercer. What do you see the young shortstop contributing in 2014?
This is one of the big questions. Mercer absolutely crushed lefties last year (.410/.460/.692), but he only had about a quarter of his 365 plate appearances against them. Mercer has always had a pretty pronounced platoon split in the minors, but it also seems foolish to me to expect him to hit .410 with a 1.152 against lefties every year. If that split does come back to earth, Mercer’s whole line is going to shift groundwards from that solid-looking .285/.336/.435 last year. All of that being said, Mercer was a solid hitter in the upper minors and a solid hitter for the Pirates last year. His glove is good enough to keep him at shortstop (at least for now; I wonder if there might be a serious infield shift coming with Alen Hanson in 2015 that would put Hanson at short move Mercer to second, Neil Walker at third, and Alvarez to first, but holy hell, Pirate fans can barely talk about these things with me without yawning and so I doubt a general-purpose, fantasy-oriented audience cares all that much), and so he’s earned a turn as the starting shortstop this year and he should get somewhere between 75 and 80% of the starts there in the early part of the season (I suspect Clint Barmes will start at short quite a bit with Charlie Morton on the mound for defensive purposes). My only real point is that the Pirates are still spending actual dollars on Clint Barmes because they’re not 100% sold on Mercer as a starter, and I think that it’s understandable why that is.
5) Captain Morgan is one of my favorite pirates. Which current Bucco should get a liquor brand named after him and what should we call it?
Well, there’s one easy joke here and so I’m going to drop that one in for a lay-up: there are already Cole 45 t-shirts out there and I submit that Gerrit Cole just looks like a dude that would swig malt liquor before striking you out.
The next thing that I would like to point out is that while it may seem easy to compare Andrew McCutchen to a really good scotch (so smooth and improves with age), the existence of the fake scotch brand “McCutcheon’s” on LOST has contributed greatly to the widespread misspelling of the name of the player that has arguably been the National League’s best over the last two or three years. This is one of the great banes of my existence (this, and grad school), and so I regret that I must request that no one ever compare Andrew McCutchen to scotch, ever, no matter how good he gets at baseball.
And Pittsburgh Brewing should just go ahead and hire Neil Walker as a spokesperson for IC Light already.