Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 3/28/12

From last Friday's Pirates season preview...

Burning Question
Andrew McCutchen has taken the next step towards superstardom. Will Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, and Pedro Alvarez follow him this season?

OK, so everyone knows that Andrew McCutchen is a superstar. The newly-extended superstar posted a career high 5.7 fWAR last year, highlighted by an .820 OPS and a 20/20 season. He's the new face of the franchise, and will be the face for at least another five years.

But McCutchen can't do it alone. Despite having a rather young team, no one really stepped up last season aside from McCutchen. The only other Pirates regular who amassed more than 2 fWAR was Walker, who had a three win season. The third and fourth ranked hitters on the list, Ryan Doumit and Ronny Cedeno, are no longer with the team. 

Neil Walker may never be a superstar, but a three win second baseman isn't really a bad thing. He only had a .742 OPS last season, but had an .811 mark in his major league debut season of 2010, which was only 110 games. Three or four wins seems to be his ceiling, and I'm sure Pirates fans will take that.

Tabata is another guy who isn't a star, but can at least be a solid regular. Since being acquired from the Yankees in the Xavier Nady trade, he's missed a ton of time due to injuries, including 71 games in 2011. When healthy, he's solid. He had a .711 OPS and 16 steals last year, and I think his ceiling is about three wins. Think a Juan Pierre kind of player, with a less speed. 

Alvarez has been the real disappointment on the Pirates since the team drafted him second overall (ahead of Buster Posey...the Pirates could really use a studly young catcher like him right now, huh?). He is never healthy, strikes out way too much, cannot play defense, and so on and so forth. In parts of two seasons (2010 and 2011) in the majors, he has a .696 OPS in 169 games, and has struck out 199 times. That's almost Reynolds-ian. But there's still something here. His career OPS in AAA is .862, and he's hit 18 homers in 426 plate appearances. The 54 walks and 110 strikeouts isn't even a huge deal to me.

Out of the three, Alvarez is the only one who hasn't at least tapped into his potential int he majors. Both Walker and Tabata look like three or four win players, but we just don't know what Alvarez can be due to his major league struggles. Out of the three, I think he has the highest potential. But he's also the biggest wild card. If I had to choose just one to break out this year, I'd go with Walker, due to how valuable players up the middle are. But don't count out Alvarez just yet.

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This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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