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Projected Lineup

  1. LF Starling Marte
  2. SS Jordy Mercer
  3. CF Andrew McCutchen
  4. 3B Pedro Alvarez
  5. 2B Neil Walker
  6. C Russell Martin
  7. 1B Gaby Sanchez
  8. RF Jose Tabata
  9. Pitcher

The pitching got most of the publicity last year, but while the staff deserved plenty, it’s not like the offense didn’t bring something to the table. They finished 13th in TAv and wRC+. Housing the NL’s MVP certainly helped that, but they also got average-or-plus production at several other spots around the diamond. Additionally, they shored up their biggest holes as the season went on as Mercer began to take time from Clint Barmes and Marlon Byrd was a tremendous acquisition in late-August to cover the right-field deficiency.

Barmes and his hot 58 OPS+ are likely to take an even bigger step back in playing time after Mercer’s impressive 2013 campaign. There is a desire to regress an MVP of his big season, but McCutchen’s 2013 was actually a dip from his 2012, and it wouldn’t be out of the question to see him maintain that production level. Overall, the offense has more than a fair shot to remain at their 2013 level despite some different pieces shuffling in. They aren’t afraid of platoons to get the most out of a position and they have reinforcements on the way.

Projected Bench

There is some upside on this bench, but it’s mostly confined to the ever-disappointing bat of Snider. He’s still just 26 years old, though, so let’s stay excited for ooonnneee more year. Lambo should be used as the long-end platoon man at first base with Sanchez if they aren’t able to find a more stable left-handed option. Lambo smashed righties to tune of a .944 OPS across three levels, including a tiny taste in the majors (although he had just 32 PA against righties in the Show and they weren’t special). Barmes should primarily be a defensive replacement at this point, but his defense has to remain amazing to keep his head just above water in wins above replacement.

Projected Rotation

It is difficult to judge the rotation in early-February, with A.J. Burnett hanging out there, because if he returns to the Pirates, they are obviously markedly better. Of course, they can make up Burnett’s departure with full seasons of Cole and Rodriguez, plus the reasonable expectation of a contribution from top prospect Jameson Taillon. Under no circumstance is it an expectation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Volquez proved useful in some fashion as fifth starter.

Projected Bullpen

The Pirates relief corps had the third-best ERA in the fourth-most innings, as the bullpen delivered a ton of value all year long. There will be some regression, but I’d be surprised at a complete collapse. Grilli has been excellent each of the last three years while Melancon took a couple of steps forward with his tremendous performance. He wasn’t nearly as bad as the 6.20 ERA in 2012, but he also isn’t as good as the 1.39 from last season. However, even a dip back to 2011’s 2.78 ERA would be more than a useful bridge to Grilli.

The 2014 success will hinge on how well Watson, Wilson, and Mazzaro can follow up their breakout efforts. All three went at last 71 2/3 innings, with ERAs ranging from 2.08 to 2.81, combining with Melancon and Grilli to alleviate a lot of pressure on the rotation, especially at the back end.

Position Battles

Right Field: Jose Tabata vs. Gregory Polanco
Tabata has the leg up with 1,538 major league PA under his belt, while Polanco has all of nine PA at Triple-A. However, the 22-year-old could push Tabata, a former top prospect in his own right, with a big spring training effort. While I myself refuse to put overwhelming stock in spring training, that doesn’t mean teams have stopped doing so. I would still give Tabata a sharp edge on making the Opening Day lineup, but he will need to continue his 2013 success or some semblance thereof to keep Polanco at bay, especially if the latter tears up Triple-A to start the season.

Fifth Starter: Charlie Morton v. Edinson Volquez if A.J. Burnett re-signs with the team
If Burnett comes back, it obviously pushes someone out. While Volquez is a free agent signing, it was a just a one-year, $5 million dollar deal so I don’t think there would be any pressure to ensure he finds his way in the rotation, especially since Morton signed a 3-year, $21 million dollar deal himself this offseason. He did very well in 116 innings last year with a 3.26 ERA, while Volquez still doesn’t know what a sub-4.00 ERA looks like in the majors.

Player to Target: Gerrit Cole
It’s easy, it’s obvious, but it’s necessary. He’s a former first-overall pick and showed precisely why in 117 1/3 innings of major-league work last summer. We watched his maturation in-season and by the time September rolled around, he was at ace-level quality. While that sample is small, there is no reason to believe it won’t continue. He also took it to an even bigger stage with a pair of excellent postseason outings against the NL Champion St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis both times. He gave up just three runs in 11 innings with 10 strikeouts and two walks. He is on the cusp of bona fide ace-dom, but you will have to pay to acquire him as he’s currently carrying a top 100 average draft position in early NFBC drafts including a high of 50th overall (I don’t recommend paying that price in particular, but 90 and beyond is doable).

Player to Avoid: Pedro Alvarez
I’m actually a pretty big fan of Alvarez as a player, but his value is rising a bit higher than I’m willing to pay at this point. A mid-30s home-run hitter is very enticing in a power-depressed era, but his awful batting average saps a lot of the value from the homers. Now if you’ve built a batting average-strong team in the first few rounds, then by all means jump in on Alvarez. This is a soft-avoid because like I said, I like Alvarez and a 45-50 homer season could outrun that batting average deficiency.

Deep Sleeper: Edinson Volquez
I know, I know. But pitching coach Ray Searage has rebuilt the messes that were Burnett and Liriano, so why can’t he help Volquez? Volquez is hardly talent-less. He keeps the ball down, has shown he can miss bats, and he even enjoyed a tiny run of not walking the ballpark in his 28 innings with the Dodgers to end 2013. It’s 28 innings, so let’s not get crazy. I can see a scenario in which Volquez delivers some real fantasy value, even if only at home.

Thank you for reading

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I 3> Gerrit Cole. Easy top-15 SP upside this year. Buy!
Couldn't agree more. Drooled all over him in the SP Guide, too!
It was so long ago it's easy to forget, but Volquez had a 3.21 ERA in 2008 ("Volquez still doesn’t know what a sub-4.00 ERA looks like in the majors").

There are several other guys that have a chance to make the opening day roster, including Tony Sanchez, Jaff Decker, Jeff Locke, and Jeanmar Gomez.
I looked *dead* his BRef page and STILL missed it. That's embarrassing, but thank you for the much-needed correction. I guess we can say he FORGETS what a sub-4.00 looks like, but he knows vaguely what it's like.
Loved it, especially the position battles. Is this the first, so far, this year? Will they be collected in one spot on the site?
Hey Dave, we've done one for each of the top 10 prospects lists that are out so far. You can find them all here - (obviously there have been some changes to some of the rosters since we started this a while back, but if you have questions, just leave it in the comments and the author will definitely give you his updated thoughts!)