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On the brink of the Pirates' 2009 season, there's a ray of hope: pitcher Paul Maholm was recently named as the league's #1 breakout player by SI's Jon Heyman. Says Heyman:

1. Paul Maholm, Pirates starter: He was about the best starter down in Florida (2-0, 1.52). Apparently not at all affected by his big winter contract (three years, $14.5 million).

In the course of the past 12 months, Pirates fans have suffered through Losing Season 16.0, the trades of Xavier Nady and Jason Bay, the Pedro Alvarez saga, and recently, the Jose Tabata's wife kidnapping a baby. And that's piled on top of what's happened between 1993-2007. In short, any good news like this is gladly welcomed by the Bucco faithful. And I agree with the assertion that Maholm could have a big year, especially under the tutelage of Joe Kerrigan.

Maholm's had a bit of a roller-coaster ride following his selection as the eighth player overall in the 2003 draft. He was hit in the face with a line drive in 2004, pulverizing the orbital bone around his eye, as well as his sinus and nose. He was lucky enough to be alive, let alone to continue to play baseball, but he was pitching in the bigs a short time later. After a strong debut in the majors in 2005 (3-1, 2.18) in six starts, his ERA ballooned to 4.76 in 2006 and 5.02 in 2007.

2008 was a bounce-back year for the lefty, bringing his ERA down to 3.76 while tossing a career-high 206 innings. Today, he'll be the Pirates' opening day starter in St. Louis (preview) and hopefully he'll be able to expand upon a legacy that still ranks pitching to Billy Crystal among its most memorable moments.

Thirty breakout candidates, Peavy trade still possible and more notes []

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