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Monday, February 19, 2018

2018 FANTASY BASEBALL SPRING TRAINING REPORT: PITTSBURGH PIRATES

By Michael Wong

Bradenton, Fla.--The Pittsburgh Pirates seem to have raised the white flag on the 2018 baseball season before even one meaningful pitch has been thrown.  At least this is what has been intimated by none other than the team's prospective starting third baseman David Freese.  It was Freese who sounded the alarm at the start of camp in regards to the offseason maneuverings by the Pirates which included trading away the team's former All-Star MVP in outfielder Andrew McCutchen.  While the Pirates had a nice run of contention, this is a team that is undertaking a rebuild despite not saying so publicly.  Let's check out some of the more prominent fantasy baseball related questions as spring training gets fully underway here with a full-squad workout on tap Monday.

1.  Can Starling Marte move past last year's PED suspension to fill McCutchen's spot at the top of the outfield hierarchy?  While it was Dee Gordon in 2016, it was Marte last season who served as the biggest name suspended 80 games by MLB for testing positive for a banned substance.  Needless to say, Marte's owners got burned badly as they had to wait for his return through the majority of the first-half of the year.  When he did return, Marte still showed off his big-time athleticism in stealing 21 bases in just 309 at-bats; while also hitting .275 with 7 home runs.  Obviously coming back from a PED suspension, we have to wonder how much of Marte's previous level of production was inflated by the juice but at the very least, he should remain one of the more potent base stealers in the game and that statistic is getting tougher to come by every season.  Even if Marte hits just 10-15 home runs, he should be in line for 40 steals, 80-plus runs, and a solid average.  This is still a low-end OF 1 who can be had for the price of an OF 2.

2.  Jameson Taillon seems poised to graduate into a top-shelf pitching talent!  Boy if anyone deserves a complete do-over from 2017, it was Taillon who thankfully was able to beat back a bout with testicular cancer and other less serious injury issues.  While his 4.44 ERA and 1.48 WHIP were no doubt ugly in his 133.2 innings, Taillon has the stuff that makes him a future front-of-the-rotation arm.  Keep in mind that Taillon was the second overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft who put up some very impressive minor league performances prior to arriving with the Pirates.  Now while Taillon doesn't have the major strikeout ability to make te ace grade in fantasy baseball, he does have the stuff to be a solid SP 3 if all breaks right in 2018 for the cost of pennies on the dollar.  

3.  Don't forget about Gregory Polanco in terms of 2018 reclamation projects!  It is hard to imagine that a 26-year-old player can be considered a reclamation project but that is what happens when you have a horrible season all the way around like Gregory Polanco had in 2017.  Battling endless leg/hamstring problems, that kept him planted on the DL, Polanco hit just .251 with 11 home runs and 8 steals in 411 at-bats.  Polanco previously was considered the next in line with regards to the Pirates churning out five-tool outfielders and while he still has that potential, this looks like a make-or-break year for the guy.  Be that as it may, the draft cost has dropped sharply here which means a tidy profit could be had as well if you buy low.

4.  Will Felipe Rivero get traded?  That is the risk that those who invest in the Pirates closer are facing as a top-shelf bullpen arm on a rebuilding team is never a good match.  There is a solid chance Rivero gets moved by the July 31 trade deadline and the risk of landing in a situation where he will pitch in setup would obviously destroy his at the moment impressive fantasy baseball value.  As a closer right now, Rivero is a top five stopper as he comes off a dominant 2017 campaign where he seemingly punched out every batter he faced.  The risk is there though for him to not be earning saves when leagues are decided.

5.  Can Josh Bell hit for consistent power?  Whether or not Bell can replicate his 2017 power output will ultimately determine where his fantasy baseball value will sit in 2018. Previous to last season, Bell was known more for a decent average and moderate power but he reversed course there with the Pirates last season as he batted just .255 but with 26 home runs.  It is very possible that Bell grew into his power at the age of 25 but having never performed at that level previously there, be careful of it being an outlier.  


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