News, Analysis & UpdatesMay 2, 2004

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Focus On Pittsburgh

By Patrick Martin

I love the Bucs! And I don’t mean greenbacks. (Don’t get me wrong, though: I won’t turn down a few more Benjamins.) I’m not talking about Milwaukee Bucks or Tampa Bay Bucs, either, although I am a big Derrick Brooks fan. I’m referring to the Pirates.

The biggest disadvantage to living in Toronto (besides the Jays’ 1-8 start at home) is that I can only catch the Bucs on television. This year, however, that might not be so bad. Manager Lloyd McClendon has assembled some of the most underrated talent in the majors. This scrappy young team boasts a good array of speed and arms. Most importantly, there are a number of up-and-coming fantasy gems in this lineup.

Raul Mondesi is the elder statesman of this group. He is a well-known troublemaker, but if there is a cheaper 20-20 man with the potential to hit 30-30 out here, I don’t know of him. He leads a core of young hitters that includes Jason Bay (25), Jack Wilson (26), Tike Redman (27), Rob Mackowiak (27) and Craig Wilson (27).

The defining feature of this group is their raw athletic ability. While I wouldn’t call them all five-tool players, they can all steal a few, knock a few out of the park, and hit for a decent average. Throw Jason Kendall, a veritable speedster behind the plate, into the mix, and you have 7/9 of a promising young lineup with some veteran leadership. None of these players will carry your team to a fantasy championship, but they are the kind that will not hurt you in any category and anonymously deliver very good roto value.

On the mound, the Bucs have plenty of potential that, while exciting to watch, I do not yet want on my team.

Oliver Perez struck out an amazing 10.02/9 last year (compare that to Prior’s 10.4/9 and Pedro’s 9.9/9). Of course, sometimes he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, as evidenced by his 9 hits/9 and 5.47 BB/9. If he learns to harness his power, however, he has the stuff to be an ace.

Kip Wells does not have to prove anything to me anymore. As the team improves around him, he will get more wins. He will never be a strikeout pitcher, but he is an ace and this is the last year that you will be able to pick him up at a bargain price.

Kris Benson has disappointed in the past only because he was expected to lead this young staff and has faced more than his share of injuries. He is an adequate #3 starter in real baseball, but does not yet deserve to make a mixed fantasy squad. He is young enough to turn it around and live up to early expectations, however.

The real Achilles’ heel of this team is its bullpen, which is made up of a motley crew of castoffs that will continue to erode the value of Perez and Wells as they cost them wins and confidence. The one saving grace is that McClendon does not hesitate to use his relievers. As a result, he has not abused his young arms as Dusty Baker has been accused of doing in Chicago.

In a smart move, the Bucs extended the contracts of both McClendon and GM Dave Littlefield this month, giving McClendon the opportunity he deserves to build this young team into a winner. Fantasy owners should take notice of this decision.

Patrick Martin (Mookie4ever in the Forums) hopes others will follow his lead and write about an entire team from a fantasy perspective.

What do you expect from the Pirates this season? Will they surprise everyone and post a winning record? And more importantly, which Bucs will make a fantasy impact?

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