Garrett Jones led the Pirates in home runs and RBIs last season, and everywhere you looked at PNC Park you'd see fans wearing his No. 46 jersey.
He was productive and popular. And finally, after so many years in the minor leagues and so many struggles trying to prove himself, it appeared Jones had arrived.
So why is it he will arrive at spring training this year without an everyday job?
"I'm just going to have to prove myself again," Jones said.
That's basically been the career motto for the 29-year-old, who hit 21 homers with 86 RBIs in 158 games in 2010.
If it were just up to those numbers, Jones wouldn't have to be preparing to be a platoon player this season. The right field job would be his, instead of him having to split playing time with free agent acquisition Matt Diaz. Jones lost out on his first base job when the Bucs signed veteran Lyle Overbay.
"It's gonna be a constant battle," Jones said. "It's gonna be a lot of competition in spring. I'm just gonna have to play my game and show them I deserve a chance to play every day again."
To do that, Jones must hit left-handed pitching better than he did in 2010. The problem for him is, it's doubtful he will get that opportunity with the addition of Diaz, who's due to make $2.55 million this season.
Jones batted .247 a year ago, which along with the power numbers certainly wasn't enough to force the Pirates to go in a different direction. But he hit only .220 against lefties, with just six homers and 27 RBIs in 214 at-bats. Diaz is a .335 career hitter against lefties, .269 against righties.
"[Jones] struggled with left-handers, as many left-handed hitters do," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said. "We thought that adding Matt Diaz, who has crushed left-handed pitching, to platoon with Garrett, who has really hit well against right-handed pitching, is going to make us a better team."
Diaz has hit 43 homers with 192 RBIs in 559 major league games. Jones has played in only 271 big league games but has more homers (44), and his 135 RBIs represent better per-game production than Diaz's.
It will be interesting -- and by that I mean disturbing -- seeing the Pirates field a lineup many days with Jose Tabata in left, Andrew McCutchen in center and Diaz in right. That's an alarming lack of power for an outfield.
Diaz is a .301 career hitter, but he's not a middle-of-the-order kind of guy who drives in a lot of runs. Jones has proven he can be that type of hitter and seems to be a better option than a soon-to-be 33-year-old Diaz, plus he presumably would get better against lefties with more at-bats.
Given his limited experience and age, there's no reason for the Pirates to give up on Jones as an everyday player.
The good news for Jones is that, even if he's not starting every day, he will still get a lot of at-bats if the Pirates employ a strict lefty-righty platoon system.
"I'm sure I'll be out there a lot and also pinch hitting, coming into the game against righties," he said. "I'll still feel like I'll be playing every day. I may not be starting as much as last year, but hopefully [I will] work my way in there and just be successful."
It took him until the age of 28 to get a legitimate shot in the majors, so Jones understands very well how to be patient and battle through adversity.
"I'm kind of used to that, and I think that's made me stronger as a player," he said. "Maybe it keeps me working hard and improving."
Jones can still improve in a lot of areas, but he's already shown enough in the past season and a half to merit an everyday job. Unfortunately for him, the Pirates don't agree.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or email@example.com.