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Thursday, February 14, 2019

2019 FANTASY BASEBALL SPRING TRAINING REPORT: PITTSBURGH PIRATES

By Michael Wong

Bradenton, Fla.--The Pittsburgh Pirates have fully moved on from the successful Andrew McCutchen era beginning in 2018 and in the process, began ushering in a youth-based movement that has brought forth some very interesting prospects that can be key contributors both to the team itself and those who take part in fantasy baseball.  In our second stop of all the major league spring training sites, let's delve into some of the more pertinent fantasy baseball topics centering on the team.

1.  Now another year removed from a PED stain, outfielder Starling Marte is ready to further cement his OF 1 status and make a firm move toward a possible 20/40 campaign in 2019.  Marte came close to such a mark last season as he smacked a career-high 20 homers to go with 33 steals and a .277 batting average mostly working in the number 1 or 2 spots in the Pirates order.  While Marte turned 30 last October, he doesn't appear to have lost any speed as he has now stolen 30 or more bags in five of the last six seasons.  While Marte's power has never really taken off beyond being a 15-20 homer guy, the fact he helps in all five standard ROTO categories and is excellent in steals which is the toughest slot to fill with effective players is key.  Even though the steroid bust was concerning, Marte has proven since that he is still very capable of providing some monster numbers on a yearly basis.

2.  Some focus needs to be placed on a very promising and quite young Pirates rotation which is fronted by the hot-and-cold Chris Archer but then is followed by intriguing Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, and Trevor Williams.  Now in terms of all four guys, I have them ranked Taillon-Archer-Musgrove-Williams in terms of potential fantasy baseball impact.  Taillon in particular is very interesting as the former 2010 second overall pick has massive velocity and comes off a 2018 where he logged a 3.20 ERA and 8.43 K/9.  Now it needs to be said that Taillon has had a very tough go of it in terms of health with a past bout with cancer and some arm issues.  That all seems to be behind him now as Taillon looks like a guy who can graduate to SP 2 status this season.  While the K rate is not totally indicative of the fastball potency Taillon has, the tools are all there for him to graduate into an upper-level guy.

3.  Speaking of Musgrove, there may not be a better control pitcher in all of baseball as his 1.79 BB/9 last season was incredible and went nicely with FIP and XFIP ERA's that were in the mid-3.00 range.  While Musgrove's 7.80 K/9 is just average, the fact he doesn't beat himself with walks and also has a nice array of pitches to keep hitters off balance makes him a very good SP 4 candidate.

4.  The catching situation bears watching in Pittsburgh as veteran Francisco Cervelli has always been an underrated bat throughout an injury-marred career but he is now being pushed by the interesting Elias Diaz.  As far as Cervelli was concerned, he hit a career-best 12 home runs a year ago and drove in 57 batters which actually qualifies him as one of the better offensive catchers in the game.  Be that as it may, Cervelli is 32 and Diaz batted .286 with 10 home runs in just 277 at-bats last season.  So while Cervelli figures to open the season as the starter, Diaz has enough promise to push him out before you know it.

5.  Josh Bell remains on the upside radar for at least one more spring as the first baseman did hit 26 home runs in 2017 before slumping to only 12 last season.  What is interesting about Bell is that both his 17.8 K/9 and 13.2 BB/9 rates from last season were tremendous but a 48 percent ground ball rate doesn't help in terms of getting the power back on track.  Lauded for good pure hitting skills during his development, Bell should still be picked in the draft as a backup first baseman who still has a chance to up his numbers this season.


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