2019 Pittsburgh Pirates Season Preview: Rotation is interesting ... lineup is full of questions

Editor’s note: Baseball is back and Yahoo Sports is previewing all 30 teams over the next month. This year’s previews will focus on fantasy and reality, as our MLB news staff and our fantasy baseball crew come together to assess each team before opening day. Next up, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ only hope is pitching. In a season that’s almost certain to end in disappointment, the one thing really worth watching is the pitching. That goes for fantasy baseball or the real thing.

Pittsburgh’s rotation is at least interesting, even if it’s not a sure thing. Jameson Taillon looks like he might finally deliver on his potential. Chris Archer is here now too, but he’s also never fully lived up to the Cy Young potential.

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Looking at that lineup tho? Starling Marte is still a very good player, and Gregory Polanco is another Pirate loaded with the P-word — potential —who has never really realized it. As it stands, Pittsburgh’s lineup is full of guys who you want to be better than they are.

In the AL Central that might play, but the in NL Central, where Paul Goldschmidt now plays and where the Chicago Cubs are still stacked and where Christian Yelich guided the Milwaukee Brewers to the top of the division, it’s not nearly enough. - Mike Oz

Pirates’ offseason grade

The Pirates offseason wasn’t very thrilling. Like a lot of teams, it consisted of a couple short-term deals and some depth additions that they’re hoping have high upside. They signed Lonnie Chisenhall and traded for Erik Gonzalez. They also signed Melky Cabrera and Francisco Liriano, who are both past their best days.

It’s certainly not keeping with all the moves the Cincinnati Reds made or the St. Louis Cardinals adding Paul Goldschmidt.

Our grade: D — None of it is enough for the Pirates to keep pace in the NL Central. - Mike Oz

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Pittsburgh’s projected lineup and pitching staff

The Pittsburgh Pirates projected lineup for 2019. (Yahoo Sports)
The Pittsburgh Pirates projected lineup for 2019. (Yahoo Sports)

Who will be the Pirates’ best fantasy buy?

Jameson Taillon added a slider to his repertoire last May and was an ace thereafter. His numbers from June through September were spectacular: 12-6, 125 Ks in 133.1 IP, 2.63 ERA. Taillon didn't allow more than three earned runs in any start over the season's final four months. His ADP in Yahoo leagues (86.0) hasn't necessarily caught up with his potential. Don't be shocked if Taillon delivers a top-12 positional finish in 2019, assuming good health. -Andy Behrens

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jameson Taillon seems primed for a breakout season. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jameson Taillon seems primed for a breakout season. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

What is Pittsburgh’s biggest fantasy question?

Beyond Taillon, this team's starting rotation is basically a fantasy minefield. Trevor Williams may have used up all his baseball luck last season, posting a 3.11 ERA despite missing very few bats and finishing with a 4.54 xFIP. He isn't going to repeat last year's .261 BABIP, and he generates few outs on his own (18.0 K%). Chris Archer is a hard-thrower who consistently piles up Ks, but he seems like a closer trapped in a starting rotation. He hasn't delivered an sub-4.00 ERA in any of the past three seasons. Joe Musgrove usually passes the eye test, but he's been a fantasy tease to this point. He enters the season with a 4.33 career ERA, not a draftable commodity in mixed leagues. -Andy Behrens

[Positional Rankings: Top 300 Overall | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | P]

Pirates prospect to watch

Pirates fans have a couple players to be excited about in 2019. Pitcher Mitch Keller should get a shot at the majors at some point. He’ll have to prove he can adjust in Triple-A after struggling at the level last year.

Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes is also close. Hayes plays excellent defense and can control the strike zone, but he hasn’t hit for power just yet. Infielder Kevin Kramer struggling in a brief major league debut, but he’ll be back looking to prove his power spike was the real deal. - Chris Cwik

Things that MUST go right for Pittsburgh

1. Steady rotation: The Pirates were middle of the pack in virtually every notable hitting and pitching category last season. The area that's mostly likely to breakthrough this year is in the starting rotation. That's because they should get a full season from Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer, and they have top prospect Mitch Keller coming soon too. If that trio comes together, and if both Joe Musgrove and Trevor Williams hold up their end, the Pirates pitching could be dangerous.

2. Gregory Polanco's recovery: The 27-year-old outfielder was primed to finish the 2018 season on a high note after posting .901 OPS over his final four months. Then he injured his left shoulder and knee on an awkward slide. On Sept. 12, Polanco had surgery to repair a torn left labrum in that shoulder. The surgery typically requires a 7-9 month recovery, meaning Polanco will miss time in the regular season. How much time, and how quickly he can knock the rust off, will help determine how effective Pittsburgh's lineup will be.

3. Division success: You might be surprised to hear Pittsburgh went 43-33 against NL Central opponents last season. Of course, 14 of those wins came against the rebuilding Reds, but it's still impressive. It's essential they repeat that success in what should be an improved and deeper National League landscape. - Mike Oz

If this team had a walk-up song, what would it be?

The NL Central will be quite a race again, but the Pirates picking “The Race” by Pittsburgh’s most famous rapper, Wiz Khalifa, might be the closest they get to being in the race. - Mike Oz

(Warning: Language NSFW)

More 2019 MLB Previews From Yahoo Sports

Baltimore | Miami | Kansas City | Detroit | Texas | Toronto | San Diego

Chicago (AL) | Minnesota | San Francisco | Pittsburgh | Arizona | Seattle

Cincinnati | Los Angeles (AL) | Oakland | Tampa Bay | Colorado | Cleveland

New York (NL) | St. Louis | Atlanta | Philadelphia | Milwaukee | Chicago

Washington | Los Angeles (NL) | Houston | New York (AL) | Boston

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