As the 2017 MLB season nears, it also means fantasy baseball drafts are here as well. With that being said, which Pittsburgh Pirates hitters should you be targeting in your drafts?

Fantasy Baseball will soon be upon us, and it’s time to talk about which Pittsburgh Pirates can help lead your team to bragging rights, money and hopefully a trophy, if your commissioner is worth his salt.

Today we’ll give you a primer on which Pirates hitters to grab, and which to avoid. Next week, we’ll do the same for pitchers.

Players to Target

Starling Marte

Is this the season that Pittsburgh Pirates left-fielder center fielder Marte puts it all together? There’s a lot to like about Marte heading into the season that every fantasy owner should look to capitalize on. Marte set career-highs with a .311 batting average and 47 stolen bases in 2016 and his .380 BABIP was the second best mark in all of the major leagues.

Sadly you have to get worried about potential injuries with Marte as he started only one game in September last year. Marte only hit nine homers and shockingly drove in only 46 runs last season, but those numbers should climb this season. On average. Marte has an ADP of 19 and is generally the sixth outfielder off the board in mixed leagues.  If you want him you are going to have to draft him early.

I have no problem owning a handful of shares of Marte this season as I look for him to have a big year.

Andrew McCutchen

What a difference a year makes.

After being drafted in the first round the past couple of seasons, McCutchen’s draft stock has taken a major hit, thanks to a lackluster 2016 season. McCutchen currently is the 17th outfielder off the board with an ADP of 51, which means he is available in the fourth round of most drafts.

That’s great news for fantasy owners.

I often say McCutchen is one of those guys who is a better baseball player than a fantasy star, especially since he isn’t running much these days. I expect a rebound for McCutchen. Maybe not to his MVP-type level, but he certainly will rebound. I could never reach for Cutch in the first round, but if you can get him a few rounds later, he could definitely bring back value in 2017.

Gregory Polanco

I’m pretty high on Polanco this season from both a Pittsburgh Pirates and fantasy standpoint. After posting career highs with 22 homers and 86 RBI a season ago, a look for an even bigger step forward from Polanco. After swiping 19 bases a season ago, is a 30-30 season possible for Polanco? It very well could be.

One worrisome thing is Polanco avoiding a slump and being able to put a full season together.

Polanco hit 297/.374/.521 with 12 home runs, 50 RBI and nine steals in his first 330 plate appearances in 2016 but during his final 257 PA’s hit just .220 with a .682 OPS. This could be the year he puts it all together and should be on everyone’s radar in every fantasy format. His ADP is directly behind McCutchen’s at 52 overall.

Players to Avoid

Josh Harrison

If there is one Pittsburgh Pirates hitter I avoid at all cost it is Harrison.

He simply doesn’t offer up any fantasy value. As much as I don’t like him a player, I like him less as a fantasy player.

He should hit .270-.280 so he won’t kill your team batting average, but he offers up little value in other areas. That .699 OPS last year is ugly and he has been trending in the wrong direction since his All-Star season of 2014. Keep this in mind. Harrison hit 13 homers in 2014. He’s hit 15 combined homers in his other five MLB seasons. His overall lack of power and RBI’s give Harrison limited fantasy value at best.

He’s too much of a free swinger to really sustain any kind of sustained success for the course of a season.

One aspect I do like is the 19 stolen bases Harrison swiped last season. If you could get Harrison cheap, it would be a nice source of cheap steals, but don’t overpay for him because he will hurt your overall team more than help it.

Francisco Cervelli

While Cervelli is one of the more popular Pirates players, he is also one you should look to avoid during your fantasy drafts. Cervelli offers up next to nothing in terms of power, having only hit one homer in 326 at bats a year ago. He won’t drive in runs and won’t score many runs. Another issue is his health. For the eighth time in nine seasons, Cervelli missed significant time to injury last season.

The only way I recommend Cervelli is in NL-only leagues or leagues with two catcher spots.

He does have a .280 career batting average so he won’t hurt you there. I like him even better in leagues that use OBP instead of average. Cervelli did post a .377 OBP last season and if healthy for the entire season I look for that to be his biggest asset in 2017.

David Freese

Clint Hurdle will use Freese a lot so that is a good sign. Being that he will be in a platoon with Jung-Ho Kang, Freese only has value in NL-only leagues, but be cautious.

Freese has hit between 10 and 14 homers while driving in 49 to 55 RBI each year since 2012.  He also got off to a nice start last season in Pittsburgh. But after he signed his contract extension, Freese hit .247 with one homer and six RBI in 101 plate appearances despite a .404 BABIP.

If you want to target Freese it makes sense to do it early in the season and hope he gets off to a good start while the regular at bats are there. Once Kang comes back I would move on from Freese quickly.

I just don’t project his number to be much better, so look for other options.

Update: With today’s report that Kang’s application for a work visa was denied, Freese suddenly becomes more intriguing. He may be worth a later-round pick, as long as your expectations are properly set.

Keep an Eye On

Josh Bell

Bell looks to be the Bucs every day first baseman and that is good for Pirates fans, but is it a good thing for your fantasy team?

One thing about rookies that receive the amount of hype that Bell has is they go too early in drafts. You don’t want to reach on Bell too early as you will cost yourself value in the middle rounds of the draft, which is where most leagues are won. That’s not to say I don’t like Bell this season as I will certainly look to own some shares of him.

Bell slashed .273/.368/.406 in 152 plate appearances, though he hit just .167 in his final 47 at-bats last season. I would expect a similar slash line this season, but wouldn’t expect a huge power season his first time through the league. Something around 15 homers and 60 RBI would be solid projections for Bell.

One thing to be cautious about is Bell’s defense. Hurdle will employ the Pedro Alvarez treatment and get Bell out of games early when the Pirates have a lead. That alone will influence Bell’s counting stats as he will lose a lot of at bats that other first basemen will get throughout the season.

Its fine to draft Bell, but do so as a depth piece on your team and don’t reach too early.

Jung Ho Kang

I am still high on Kang despite not knowing when he will be ready to go this season. Despite that, he is still a draft and stash guy for now.

Kang missed the first month of the season a year ago, but his power numbers rose across the board, smacking 21 homers, driving in 62 runs in just 318 at bats. The batting average did slip from .287 to .255 so that is concerning, but I still like Kang overall.

I would like him better if he still qualified at shortstop, but I’ve had no problem drafting Kang as infield depth and holding onto him.

Jordy Mercer

Mercer is probably the last regular in the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup that you think would have fantasy value, but he does offer a bit.

First, you are going to get him cheap and that is big, especially when it comes to looking for better value at other positions. For the price, Mercer should deliver double digit homers, which is a plus. He also had a .328 OBP last season so not terrible. Keep an eye on him though.  Mercer hit .283 with a .750 OPS through July before fading big time again down the stretch.

If he can put a full season together, Mercer could provide sneaky fantasy value per dollar. There’s also the production against southpaws as Mercer slashed .290/.378/.451 against lefties last season.

I would only consider Mercer in NL-only leagues and in daily formats when he faces left-handed pitching.

Adam Frazier

Keep an eye on Frazier, who is having a solid spring. He showed last season that he can hit and should get playing time around the diamond for the Bucs. Frazier can hit. He won’t offer up much power, but he had a .career 300/.363/.378 line in the minors and nearly duplicated that in a short time in Pittsburgh last season.

In NL-only formats, Frazier is a guy you should target late that can help keep your batting average or OBP solid.

Unlike many, we care about your league!  Tell us what you think of our fantasy thoughts here or on twitter. Good luck in your drafts!

Matt Shetler

Matt is a life long Pirates fan with both a newspaper and radio background. Before coming to Pirates Breakdown he was most recently the co-owner and lead columnist for Pittsburgh Sporting News. He has been a credentialed writer for all four major sports and also has written for plenty of other sports and fantasy sports websites.