Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Hey, if you bring up Dave Littlefield's draft record, most Pirate fans begin popping arteries and their teeth begin to gnash. But give the devil his due; in 2005 he got it right.

That's the year he went to the podium and announced that Pittsburgh was selecting Andrew Stefan McCutchen, an 18 year-old from Fort Meade High in Florida.

In his senior year, the multi-talented McCutchen hit .474 with 8 home runs, 40 RBI, 45 stolen bases, and only 5 strikeouts. He also played football and ran track. McCutch was signed up to play for Florida, but $1.95M convinced the 11th overall pick that the time was right to turn pro.

Contrary to popular belief, the Pirates promoted him pretty aggressively. He never got to sit at one level until 2008, always being moved up the ladder.

In 2005, McCutchen went from the GCL rookie league to short-season Williamsport, hitting a combined .310. In 2006, he started at Class A Hickory and moved on to Altoona, skipping High A, and between the two clubs, he hit .294.

He started for the South Atlantic League's All-Star team that season, his first full year as a professional. At the end of 2006, the Pirates named him the organization's Minor League Player of the Year.

In 2007, he started with the Curve and was then kicked upstairs to Indy. That's the year he met his first taste of struggle, hitting just .265 overall.

In 2008, he was a very solid player, hitting .283. Talk was that the highly touted savior - though he shares the title with Pedro Alvarez now - may end up being just a good MLB player rather than the Joltin' Joe everyone had hoped he'd become.

Still, everyone wanted to see him do his thing at PNC Park. The Pirates held off. With a another losing season in the bag and Nate McClouth playing center, there wasn't any reason to bring McCutchen to the show and start his arbitration clock ticking.

Heck, he didn't even get a September call-up, although they brought him to the banks of the Allegheny just to acclimate him to the clubhouse routine. Guess they knew his time was about to come.

So it was back to Indy to start 2009, where he was hitting .303 in 49 games when the news came: Nate McLouth was traded to the Braves, and Andrew McCutchen was finally headed to the big leagues.

McCutch was ready. In five minor league seasons, he went from Rookie league to AAA, and had a line of .286/.362/.423 with 43 homers, 232 RBI, 330 runs, and 105 stolen bases. It was his time.

He got his call on June 3rd, and made his debut the next day, singling in his first at-bat off the Mets' Mike Pelfrey.

On June 17th, McCutchen hit his first career home run off of Francisco Liriano of the Twins. On June 25th, he had his first career walk-off hit off of Indians' reliever Matt Herges.

On August 1st, McCutch had his most memorable evening. Against the Nats, he went 4-for-5 with three home runs and six RBI. He became the tenth Pirate to hit three home runs in a single game, and the first Pirate rookie to ever do it.

He collected his first walk-off home run off of Brad Lidge of the Phillies on August 25th.

In 108 games, McCutchen had a line of .286/.365/.471 with an .836 OPS. He hit a dozen homers, 26 doubles, and nine triples while stealing 22 bases. McClutch drove in 54 runs, scored 74, and hit .324 with runners in scoring position.

His glovework was also as advertised, although his UZR was -1.0. Like most speedy center fielders, he plays fairly shallow. McCutchen has shown the ability to track down balls over his head, although he could do a better job with his reads at balls hit right at him.

His arm is above average, but he needs to improve its accuracy. Overall, he's a very good outfielder, better than McLouth, but has a ways to go. The raw ability is there, but positioning and route-running take time to become second nature.

The baseball world sure took notice of his debut. McCutchen was named the Baseball America Rookie of the Year for 2009, and was fourth in the Baseball Writer's race, garnering a pair if first place votes.

The only question is how much upside does he left to reach, or simply stated, how good can he be?

McCutchen is a little guy at 5-11, 175 pounds, and that may limit his home run production, though his legs guarantee a bushel of doubles and triples. He's got unrealized potential in the field, and at 23 (his birthday is in October) has time to learn the nuances.

His comparable at age 22 is Grady Sizemore, and that's not bad company to be in. Sizemore has more size and power; McCutchen is faster. Otherwise, pretty even match.

Which leads to the big question about McCutchen: what's his future in Pittsburgh? He's young, is a well-spoken team face, and is quietly a leader - or didn't you notice how Lastings Milledge, the devil incarnate in New York and Washington, has become Mr. Peepers under McCutch's wing?

Pirate fans fear that he's gone after, or maybe during, his arb years. Neal Huntington has stated that McCutchen is a guy to build around, but we've heard that song before. Blogger Josh Taylor hopes for a different scenario.

Huntington was in Cleveland when the Indians signed Sizemore to a six-year deal. He suggests that the Pirates work on tying him up through arbitration and early free agency just like the Tribe did with Grady; it ended up a win-win for both.

Now that flies against all that the suits hold holy, and does carry some risk, but it sure would send a welcome message to the Pirate Nation, and the team. But we'll see how Pittsburgh handles its brave new world.

No comments: