Every season, some player steps up from relative obscurity or past struggles and establishes themselves as something more than they once were. The 2014 season will be no exception for the Pittsburgh Pirates, as someone who fans aren't expecting to deliver will come through in a big way for the team.
So who will that player be? Will Jose Tabata display power? Maybe. Will Edinson Volquez turn back the clock to 2008? We'll see. Is Jordy Mercer going to evolve into a premier offensive shortstop? Hopefully.
Who will be the team's most improved player? Travis Snider.
Yes. Travis Snider. The same Travis Snider that hit .215, had a .614 OPS and only drove in 25 runs all season. While he did perform admirably in clutch situations and was a force as a pinch-hitter, Snider was god awful for the majority of last season. However, he was battling a lingering toe injury that hurt his ability to properly plant his foot before each swing, significantly reducing his power. He has displayed power at the major league level before while healthy with the Toronto Blue Jays, hitting 23 home runs over a two year span while Snider was just 21 and 22 years old. He was rated the No. 6 prospect in all of baseball prior to 2009, and tore up 190 games worth of Triple-A pitching over a five year span, mashing 33 home runs and knocking in 160 while posting a .968 OPS. Titanic stuff, even for the minor leagues.
So why will Snider break out? For one, he's finally healthy for the first time as a member of the Pirates. Snider has been battling nagging injuries seemingly the entire time he has been with the Bucs since being acquired for Brad Lincoln, landing on the DL multiple times and playing through persistent pain for the vast majority of the time spent off the DL. Next, Snider was recently given a vote of confidence by the organization, who not only hung on to Snider, but agreed to pay him $1.2 million to avoid arbitration. Anyone who makes more than a million on the Pirates sees the field, and with right field looking like a platoon between Snider and Tabata, at least to start, Snider should be seeing some significant time. Lastly, with Gregory Polanco set to be ready to arrive by midseason, if not sooner, Snider should be even more motivated fend off the competition. It's almost as if there is no pressure on Snider from the team, as they will be fine whether or not he succeeds. If Snider can set his head straight, avoid the injury bug and demonstrate his power swing consistently for the Bucs, he will be able to fend off Polanco for far longer than many believe possible.
Snider's swing is tailored to PNC Park's dimensions, and for the first time, fans will be seeing it on full display. The former top prospect has something to prove, this may be his last chance at regular playing time. Look for Snider to come through in a big, unexpected way for the 2014 Pirates
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