Opening Day is roughly a week away, and I’m hoping everyone is fired up for Opening Day.
Every season, it seems like there’s one person who breaks out for the Pirates, and shocks everyone with the success that he puts together. Ranging back to 2008, a guy named Nate McLouth came onto the scene and an unbelievable year, which no one was really expecting. When it comes to 2009, you had Garrett Jones, the 28-year old rookie who hit 21 home runs in half of a season with the Pirates. Pedro Alvarez’s rookie season was in 2010, when he blasted 16 homers in his shortened year with the Pirates. Once 2011 rolled around, Joel Hanrahan became one of the best closers in the National League. In his first full season as a closer, the Hammer converted 40 saves in 44 attempts. This past 2012 season, guys like A.J. Burnett and Michael McKenry were pleasant surprises. Burnett, who was acquired for practically nothing, was thought of as a washed up pitcher who had nothing left in the tank. He went onto win sixteen games and was the best pitcher on the staff. McKenry, who some questioned whether or not he would make the team, went on an unreal power hitting streak in the middle of the Pirates run.
So when it comes down to the point, there’s always one or two guys who are huge to the Pirates each year. This year, a few guys stand out to me for breakout candidates.
August 10, 2012: Pittsburgh, PA, USA: Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Travis Snider (23) rounds the bases after hitting a three run home run against the San Diego Padres during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Pugliese-USA TODAY Sports
Travis Snider is going to have a big year in 2013. He was acquired at the deadline last July for Brad Lincoln, and fought injuries throughout the half season he played with the Pirates. With the starting right field position belonging to him at the start of the season, I really hope Snider can prove himself. There’s guys behind him who are available if he fails to produce, but I like Snider a whole lot better than I do Alex Presley and Jose Tabata. He’s not the fastest player in the outfield, but has an awesome glove. He displayed that last season with some spectacular catches that he was able to pull off. He only hit one home run in 2012 for the Pirates, but has the bat to hit 15-20 home runs in PNC Park. I think pretty highly of Snider, and hope he can hold down the right field position for 2013.
September 17, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Mark Melancon (37) throws a pitch in the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Boston Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
When we go over the to pitching staff, one guy was brought in over the offseason who I am a big fan of. Mark Melancon, who was a “throw-in” player in the Joel Hanrahan trade, could be a big piece in the bullpen. He’ll be setting up Jason Grilli for most of the season, but if anything happens in which Grilli can’t close out games, Melancon is completely capable of being used as a everyday closer. He was a huge disappointment to Red Sox fans last season, as he played most of the year in Triple A. When he was a Houston Astro in 2011, he did a good job for someone closing games out on the Houston Astros. He finished the season with over twenty saves, and I expect Melancon to be one of the best relievers in the bullpen this season.
There you have it. My two breakout candidates for the Pirates. Anything is possible, and there’s a chance both of these guys are busts, but I’m strong believers in the two when it comes to contributing to the Pirates in 2013.