The 2012 Pirates have relied on first-round picks such as Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez to carry the offense. These guys had been groomed in the system and unlike many other first round picks of the Pirates, made it to the big leagues and have been highly productive.
Yet, the success of the 2012 Pirates is also largely due to players who came out of nowhere to start producing for the Bucs, and it is those players who I want to take a closer look at.
Jones had a long path to reach the major leagues, let alone be a successful player. Garrett was drafted in the 14th round of the 1999 Draft by the Atlanta Braves. He played three seasons in their minor league system before being released and signed by the Minnesota Twins.
He would remain in the Twins organization all the way until the 2008 season, yet he would only play in 15 games with the Twins during that time as he was blocked at first by Justin Morneau.
In the winter of the same year, the Pirates signed Jones to a minor league deal, one that received relatively little attention. Jones had a strong spring, but didn't make the club. The 2009 Pirates were so bad, however, that eventually he would get his chance, and he made the most of it.
Jones would go on to hit 21 home runs in just over half a seasons worth of games and earned a starting spot the next year. Yet, 2010 was not the kindest to Garrett. While he did top 20 home runs and 80 RBI receiving everyday at bats, his weaknesses, such as his inability to hit lefties, were exposed, and his batting average plummeted as a result. 2011 brought a platoon in right field with the highly unsuccessful Matt Diaz, and Jones' numbers dropped again. 2012 brought about another platoon, this time with Casey McGehee, and for most of the first two months, it looked as if Jones was playing his way out of the starting lineup yet again.
In June however, things began to change. As the Pirates offense improved, so did Jones, who is now putting up his best numbers since his original call-up in 2009. This has allowed him to stay in the lineup more vs. lefties, who he is also hitting far better as of recently. The man who became the Pirates everyday cleanup hitter was destined to be a career minor leaguer until the Pirates took a flier on him, and if the Bucs make it to October, he will be a large reason why.
Utility man Drew Sutton's story is one that deserves its own piece, so I will try and give the shortened version of this man's success story.
Sutton bounced around between the Astros, Reds, Red Sox, Braves and Rays organizations before coming to the Pirates (Actually, he was on the Pirates before the Rays, but only for a day). Playing for four organizations in one calendar year would challenge the mental toughness of any athlete, and Sutton was no exception.
Once arriving in Pittsburgh, though, Sutton played himself into more regular at-bats, and hit one of the most memorable game winning home runs in PNC Park history against the Astros, an emotional time for both Sutton and the Bucs.
Sutton recently scored the game winning run vs. the Astros in Houston, and keeps bringing the magic day in and day out. Championship teams have utility men such as Sutton amongst them.
Jeff Karstens was essentially the sixth most valuable player in the deal that sent Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees for Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen and himself. After pitching poorly in the Bronx, Karstens got himself a spot in the Pirates putrid 2008 rotation, and showed from the onset that maybe he had what it took to be a big league starter.
He nearly pitched a perfect game vs. Arizona in one of his first outings, yet, after a couple unsuccessful years, he was dropped from the 40-man roster and essentially was free to go sign with any other team. He ended up coming back to the Bucs and making the team as the fifth starter in 2011, where he would go on to post a sub-3.50 ERA and become the most valuable pitcher during the year.
Posting similar success in limited time this year, Karstens is proving to be a very valuable fourth starter as well as a leader on the staff.
Surprisingly, Jason Grilli actually was a first-round pick way back in 1997, yet, didn't have a full-time major league job until 2006. By 2011, Grilli was out of the big leagues after producing mediocre numbers and bouncing around several different teams.
He was with the Phillies Triple-A squad in Lehigh Valley when the Pirates signed him after his contract set him free if he wasn't in the big leagues by a certain date. For the first time in his career, Grilli began pitching lights out and racking up strikeouts.
He has been one of the premier set-up men in the game this year, on pace for over 100 strikeouts, and is the bridge to getting to Joel Hanrahan. One of the most valuable pieces on the team, it is amazing that Grilli was wilting away in the minor leagues just one season ago.
The only reason the Bucs even have the Fort at the moment is due to injuries from a season ago. Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit were both injured within a week of each other, and the Bucs were left with Dusty Brown posting terrible numbers behind the plate.
They decided to make a low risk acquisition in trading for McKenry from the Boston Red Sox where he was in Triple-A. Soon, McKenry's style of play became a hit in the Burgh, yet, his numbers weren't exactly awe-inspiring. This year, McKenry took it upon himself to become a better hitter, and that he has. McKenry has his nine home runs so far in under 125 at-bats. That is a Ryan Braun level of power, and it is coming from the short, backup catcher on the Bucs.
With his hot-streak carrying over from June to July and hopefully August, it will be just a matter of weeks before McKenry becomes the starting catcher.