There may not be a better or more accurate way to describe the season that the Pittsburgh Pirates put together in 2013. 94 wins, the third-most in the National League, and, of course, their first playoff appearance since 1992. This was one of those teams that you secretly were rooting for all year long, no matter where you are from. So, after a Cinderella 2013 campaign, what are the fantasy prospects for the Buccos for the upcoming season?
It all starts with my favorite player in baseball, 2013′s NL MVP, Andrew McCutchen.
After another impressive season in which he posted a .317 average, 21 home runs, 84 RBI, 97 runs and 27 stolen bases, McCutchen is now one of only two players in all of baseball to manage at least 20 dingers and 20 steals in each of the last three seasons. And according to ESPN, Cutch joins Mike Trout as the only player in the league over the last two seasons to post a 20/20 line to go along with at least 80 runs and RBI, as well as a .300 average. Those are elite numbers, elite balance and elite consistency, folks. Here’s a guy who finished 2013 inside the top-10 in batting average, runs, walks, stolen bases, slugging percentage and OPS. An incredibly mature batter, Cutch sported an on-base percentage of .404, which is an awesome number for an elite base stealer. Feel free to use a top-five pick on him.
Perhaps the most intriguing player in Pittsburgh to me is Starling Marte, who really took a step forward during his second year in the majors. An elite contributor in the steals department, Marte swiped 41 bags last season, good for 3rd-most in the National League. His impressive .363 BABIP was also the fourth-highest among qualifying outfielders last year, which means he is getting on base with his eye and skilled contact hitting, which is what you want out of your leadoff hitter. He posted a strong on-base percentage .343 last year, which resulted in a healthy 83 runs. When you are a guy getting on base that much and can steal 40 something bags, there is plenty of fantasy upside. And because outfield is so incredibly deep, I think Marte will be quite overlooked on draft day.
Finally, there’s Pedro Alvarez, who is a pretty straight shooter when it comes to fantasy. He’s going to kill your average, but, in return, will kill plenty of baseballs over the fence. Last year, he batted a poor .233 with an ugly 186 strikeouts, but also provided a whopping 36 home runs (1st in NL) and 100 RBI (5th in NL). His 66 dingers over the last two years are 53 more than the likes of David Wright hit over the last three seasons combined. Of course, he won’t win you any batting titles, but he could legitimately lead the NL in homers again, and has room for improvement with his bat. Six of his home runs came off curveballs and sliders this past season, his groundball rate has dropped and is showing trends of improvement in plate discipline. And when you consider that he is a 40-home run caliber guy in a pitcher friendly park, you realize just how much power he has.
What a story Francisco Liriano was from a season ago. He saw his career revived in Pittsburgh, winning 16 games, the 3rd-most in the NL, posting an ERA of 3.02, a WHIP of 1.22 and a healthy 163 strikeouts. He was also durable and trustworthy, finishing second in the NL in complete games with two. He dazzled with his slider, allowing him to vastly improve in the HR/Fly ball ratio in 2013, which helped him post an impressive 0.50 HR through nine percentage, the fourth-highest among pitchers. Playing in a venue that is friendly to pitchers, Liriano will be the ace of this Pirate ballclub, and a nice complementary piece for fantasy staffs.
Meanwhile, 23-year old Gerrit Cole is another very, very intriguing name. The 23-year old was very impressive during his rookie campaign, winning 10 games, striking out 100 batters and posting an ERA of 3.22. He was a controlled pitcher, only walking a batter about six percent of the time. He only has room for improvement at such a young age, and with a heater seeing the high-90s and a nasty slider, we could be looking at a major draft day bargain in Cole, who could quietly finish as a top-20 guy.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.