Way back in 2004, I had the good fortune of meeting Joel Hanrahan at spring training. Being the baseball nerd that I am, I actually knew who Hanrahan was and sought him out for an autograph. At the time, he was one of the Dodgers best pitching prospects (along with Edwin Jackson and Greg Miller) and Baseball America ranked him in their annual top 100 prospects list. The outlook seemed pretty bright for Hanrahan and I was elated to leave Dodger camp that day with a sparkling Joel Hanrahan autograph.
The Joel Hanrahan bandwagon did not last for long. In a blink of an eye, Hanrahan went from being on the map to an afterthought. By 2007, the Dodgers had given up on Hanrahan and the Nationals decided to give him a shot.
And to be quite honest, Hanrahan sucked with the Nationals in 2007. He had no control (walked 38 batters in 51 IP) and compiled a horrific 6.00 ERA out of the Nationals bullpen. Hanrahan was now in jeopardy of never making an impact on the major league stage. By this point, the Joel Hanrahan bandwagon was virtually non-existent.
But for some reason, the Nationals decided to give Hanrahan another chance. Maybe they liked his stuff...or maybe they were encouraged by his strikeout rate (43 K in 51 IP)...but whatever the reason, the Nationals gave him a chance to prove himself out of the bullpen in 2008.
And guess what? Hanrahan thrived. In 84 IP, Hanrahan struck out an impressive 93 batters and produced an impressive 3.95 ERA and .233 BAA. At times, Hanrahan looked dominant, sporting a mid nineties fastball that overpowers hitters. By the end of the season, thanks to trades and injuries, Hanrahan was closing out games for the Nationals and he went 9 for 13 in save situations.
This season, the Nationals are expecting Hanrahan to be their closer. The bright lights of pitching in the ninth inning will shine squarely on Hanrahan and we'll see if the big guy can hold up under the pressure of the moment. This is a guy who was moved to the bullpen so that he would be able to relax more, but now the Nationals are counting on Hanrahan in the most pressure packed situations. This could get interesting.
No one is expecting much out of the Nationals in 2009, but if Hanrahan can deliver, the Nationals could surprise some folks and approach 75-80 wins. Not to mention that my autograph might have some increased value! The Nats have talent on the offensive side for once, now it will be up to the pitching to produce.
The spotlight's on, Joel Hanrahan.
What do you think, will Hanrahan produce in 2009?
*Coming up tomorrow, the Chicago Cubs.*