Don't be shellfish...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

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.

From Around The Web

  1. Oaktownsteve says:
    (link)

    You guys put any stock in Alvarez’ 22% spring K rate and supposedly improved approach?

    • Mike

      Mike says:
      (link)

      Yeah, actually. Anything I can hang my hat on to hope he’ll hit higher than .240!

    • @Oaktownsteve: I would like to, but until I see some results in real games, I’m going to be nervous about him.

  2. Joe G says:
    (link)

    Does james McDonald is coming back to the SP rotation some point this year?

    • @Joe G: I believe J-Mac is on the Cubs now. And also possibly injured. And almost certainly still terrible.

    • Mike

      Mike says:
      (link)

      He might, but it’s hard to trust him with a shoulder problem now two years in a row.

      • Joe G says:
        (link)

        @Mike: you think pirates rotation is weak?

        • Mike

          Mike says:
          (link)

          I like Liriano and Cole obviously, but it gets a little dicey after that. I’ve always liked Charlie Morton though.

  3. costaricanchata says:
    (link)

    nice article , Mike .
    and nice t-shirt .

    • Mike

      Mike says:
      (link)

      Thanks! yeah that’s a cool shirt :)

  4. Thomas says:
    (link)

    Darvish or Cain and Cobb?

    • Mike

      Mike says:
      (link)

      Yu

  5. tony says:
    (link)

    just emailed the wife’s cousin, a pittsburgh native, actually worked for the team for a while, about the tee…… loves him some pirates, COLE 45! brilliant…. loved that

    • Mike

      Mike says:
      (link)

      Nice!

  6. MB says:
    (link)

    God damnit, Polanco needs to help me now!

    Thanks for the post though, awesome stuff

    • Mike

      Mike says:
      (link)

      Ha, thanks man.

  7. Fredly Guy says:
    (link)

    Appreciate the Alvarez reality check.

    So who’d you rank higher in N-only, Wilson Ramos or Matt Adams?

    • Mike

      Mike says:
      (link)

      Adams

  8. Ghost of the Disappeared says:
    (link)

    Mike: A bit behind you here, sorry. Took the day off and went to Napa yesterday to bask in the morning fog. I miss it – the fog. I grew up in the old Bay Area – The city of Napa is the last bastion of it IMO

    The Other P’s

    As a Pennsylvania BB fan does it irk you that the P’s are not in your division?? Or are they Mid Westerners and belong out West in your thinking???

    1) Alvarez = You nailed it. Slugger-itis is in full bloom here. If his average goes north – it will be an expected deviation from the mean. Some years more balls drop than others. He is infected by the power bug. He joins a long list of those who have played BB that way.

    So don’t expect a change in approach from our boy – but, one can always gamble on an anomaly 20 – 30 point rise in any given year – Risky – I can feel the BA hammer already dropping. Do you feel lucky??

    Or one can always hitch him up in a troika team along side of a couple BA monsters, like Mauer and Martinez – That might be hard to accomplish without interfering with other plans on draft day.

    2) Really depends on how Tabata and Snider ( yep that only 26 YO Snider – hard to believe Huh??) I can only guess at this one. Snider is a sad poster boy story of ruining a kid by bringing him up far too early. He did get more PT last year – a from the deep waters breakout??? – Stranger things have happened.

    In general, the Other P’s are really a no name team that intrigues me in general – as maybe being a good BB team in the real world of MLB. They are likely a year or 2 away… But their future is bright – maybe. They did bleed some older talent – with “their people” core remaining. A fun team to follow now.

    I just don’t know how to answer this question. Other than, he is a great snag in reserve keeper drafts – and what he provides this year should be treated as just a bonus at this point.

    Before we leave here, a final salute to Byrd’s 2013 campaign.

    3) Cole does well enough – Is his future as a closer – longterm???

    Flat is an ugly word to describe a pitcher with. Meaning timing in picking a spot in the zone is all that required to hit a 100 mph – most MLB players can do this in their sleep. I say, he does fine. But, this label is a scary one and not to be taken lightly. Let’s hope, it was used lightly

    AJ’s year, last, makes him the fella that is going to be hard for the replace for the Other P’s. in the rotation.

    4) Mike, another great question ( I’m giving you the credit here all year – not to the exploited RB contributors. I assume you review all their submissions for “quality standards for your show”

    I don’t think even the Baseball Gods have decided on this one yet. We could see a battle between them (the Gods) before this is over. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite could have one heck of a cat fight before this one is over. If you see Mercer about to bite into a golden apple or rubbing his ankle – keep down, lightening bolts will be flying all about shortly.

    Mercer wins most of the PT in a yeoman like way- at best. Clint Barmes is BBs bad fantasy penny – that always turns up to get in the way. He is Kaput or should be.

    5) Hate to say this, but it’s Starling Marte. Whose name sounds like some ritzy Tiffany’s party favor or some hideously sweet cordial that decorates the back of bars upper shelves and never gets drunk – except by the LidlessEye and Tuhol.

    • Mike

      Mike says:
      (link)

      Thanks Ghost! Yeah it does actually. The Phils and Pirates were a great pair back when it was just the two divisions. Put the Braves in the Central and give us back the Buccos.

      “I’ll have a Starling Marte” I can see it now. It’s like that Hypnotiq stuff (I used to work in a liquor store)

      Thanks for the feedback on my questions :)

      • Ghost of the Disappeared says:
        (link)

        @Mike:

        Mike: Hypnotiq – had to google that ones. That is exactly like what I meant. Golly, that is horrid look’n stuff . It must come with toxicity rating????

        • Mike

          Mike says:
          (link)

          It’s awful

Comments are closed.