Will putting Starling Marte at the top of Pittsburgh's order pay off?
Neal Huntington has taken a curious approach over the past year to fixing his lineup. At the trade deadline Huntington netted a collection of irksome veteran hitters with uses during their upswings and too many downswings to overlook. The rationale explanation—and an understandable one, at that—was Huntington had no desire to spare his best prospects while chasing fleeting odds at the postseason. The offseason has since come and gone and few positional player additions were made. Two new faces are expected to make the opening day roster in Russell Martin and Brandon Inge: veterans known for their gloves. Pardon Pirates fans for not sitting rapt in anticipation to see the same group that has scored the fifth-fewest runs in the league since 2011. What makes Huntington's gambit riskier is the status of the one pure upside play in his lineup: Left fielder Starling Marte.
Though Marte predates Huntington in the organization—having been signed by the previous regime months earlier—the Dominican Republic native is a testament to the Huntington regime's patience, and one of the first big-league-ready talents emerging from Pittsburgh's praiseworthy international efforts. The tools-laden perpetual breakout candidate broke out and appeared three times on Kevin Goldstein's prospect lists on the way to making his big-league debut last season. Even now, as a 24-year-old, Marte remains a fascinating talent.
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The Pirates are in the midst of a late-season swoon much like their freefall from last season, but Pittsburgh fans still have at least nine reasons to smile.
Last year, the Pirates held sole possession of first place in the NL Central as late as July 19th, claimed a share of first place as late as July 25th, and had a record over .500 as late as August 1st. On the next day, August 2nd, their record fell to .500, and their playoff odds flatlined. After that, there was no more good news. The only question was how far they would fall.
The answer? About as far as a team can fall in two months. The Pirates went 8-22 in August and 10-16 in September. They finished in fourth place, which was better than sixth, where they finished the year before. They won 72 games, which was better than 57, their total from 2010. It was progress, and while the end result was a losing season no better than some of the 18 before it, there were more than the usual amount of good days along the way. Still, the season ended on a sour note.
This year's Pirates haven't crumbled like last year's Pirates, and the reasons why start with team defense.
With a 7-6 win over the Diamondbacks on Wednesday night, the Pirates ran their record to 63-47, pulling within 2 ½ games of Cincinnati in the NL Central. They remain tied with Atlanta atop the NL Wild Card standings. If the season ended today, the Pirates would be a playoff team. That’s not something we’ve been able to say very often after April in the last 20 years.
Last year at this time, the Pirates were in mid-free fall, fresh off a 10-game losing streak that put them under .500 for good. This year, that collapse isn’t coming. Pittsburgh’s 2011 team had a -39 run differential on this date last season, but this year’s edition has outscored its opponents by 35 runs. The Pirates haven’t played as well as their record would indicate, which explains why their playoff odds still sit below 60 percent. But even if their two-decade postseason appearance drought does go on a little longer, their streak of consecutive sub-.500 seasons is about to end.
Youth and speed dominate this week's Keeper Reaper list
Yet another week passes with more potential keeper names for The Keeper Reaper to examine. The season is winding down just as the offseason for keeper league owners is heating up. Here again are the format categories that we are considering, for reference:
The Pirates are encouraged by the performance of four youngsters in their lineup, along with other news and notes from around the major leagues.
The Pirates are approaching the end of another dismal season. They are assured of finishing below .500 for an 18th consecutive year, extending their North American major professional sports record. They find themselves 33 games off the pace of the first-place Reds in the National League Central.
Value Picks goes all-Tampa for the AL side and looks at a former top prospect on the NL side.
Value Picks again makes one change for the week, as long-time VP member Ian Desmond graduates past the 20% ownership mark in ESPN mixed leagues and moves on in terms of value. Desmond maintained his slash line during the week, keeping his AVG above .270. With a believable .315 BABIP, you should expect to see that AVG stick throughout the season. And while Desmond will never be confused with Nick Johnson in terms of plate discipline, he's made for that a bit with his decent pop. Desmond ranks third among NL shortstops in RBI (33) and fifth in ISO (.143), so owners are getting decent value right now. While Jhonny Peralta still remains below the ownership threshold in ESPN mixed leagues, it is likely that most readers of Fantasy Beat are more than aware of Peralta's value as an average hitter in the hitting-poor shortstop position. As a result, he'll "graduate" with the caveat that he remains a solid choice for AL leagues.
Interesting arms give the Pirates hope that they'll contend at some point.
1. Andrew McCutchen, cf Very Good Prospects
2. Brad Lincoln, rhp
3. Brent Lillibridge, ss Good Prospects
4. Neil Walker, c Average Prospects
5. Todd Redmond, rhp
6. Brian Bixler, ss
7. Josh Sharpless, rhp
8. Mike Felix, lhp
9. John Van Benschoten, rhp
10. Justin Vaclavik, rhp