McCutchen 'excited' about Pirates debut today
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The latest in a long line of future Pirates meets the present this afternoon, when ballyhooed Andrew McCutchen arrives on the North Shore to make his major league splash and PNC Park debut.
No pressure, either.
Just step into an outfield vacated by the trade of a Pirates-popular, All-Star, Gold-Glove-winning, middle-of-the-lineup, face-of-the-franchise guy.
"It caught me off guard that [Nate] McLouth was traded," McCutchen said of last night's surprising trade to Atlanta of a cornerstone Pirates player signed to a $15.75 million contract barely three months ago. "Good guy. Pretty much one of those guys who wanted to be the guy on that team. And they traded him to get me up there, which says a lot, that they have faith in me to make an impact. Hopefully, I can come in there and do well."
The Pirates' future banks on it.
In fact, general manager Neal Huntington discussed the McLouth trade with a vision in his eyes.
Your future Pirates outfield, Huntington related, looks to him like this: McCutchen, the speedy and athletic Gorkys Hernandez, one of the vital returns in yesterday's deal, plus power-hitting Jose Tabata. Of course, Hernandez was switched from Class AA venues, from Atlanta's Mississippi club to the Pirates' Altoona team -- to where Tabata is expected to soon return from a hamstring injury.
But where does McCutchen fit in the short term: His customary center field, where he seemingly was groomed as the next Andy Van Slyke there for the Pirates, or in left field so his former Class AAA Indianapolis pal Nyjer Morgan can move to center?
"I don't know where I'm going to be playing yet," said McCutchen, 22, the club's 11th-overall selection in the 2005 draft. "It doesn't matter to me. Shoot, I'm here now. As long as I'm playing. I'm good with that. I've been comfortable in both left and center."
More important than McCutchen's numbers of late in Indianapolis -- .303 batting average, .493 slugging percentage, 10 doubles, 8 triples, 4home runs, 20 RBIs and 10 stolen bases -- the Pirates brass saw progress from a prospect whom they designated to the minors this past spring assured that they would summon him to Pittsburgh in a couple of months.
"We certainly don't expect Andrew to step in and replace Nate McLouth's production from day one," Huntington said. "But as we've seen, Andrew has the potential to be one of those above-average players that we need to be successful as we go forward.
"The bunting needs some work. Stealing an impact base needs some work. Offensively, he's been much more consistent with his approach. He won't feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. He'll still drive the ball gap to gap, collect doubles and triples, draw walks, be an impact baserunner and play impact defense. If he just stays within himself, he has a chance to really do some exciting things.
"If we made this trade and not felt comfortable with Andrew coming up, we would have done something else. But we did feel Andrew was close enough. ... Not a finished product. Not going to step into the big leagues, hit .330 and win rookie of the year, probably. There may be some growing pains, which there is typically with every young player. But we felt like he progressed enough in his development path that he was ready to come in and be a regular player for us."
Hernandez plays center field, steals bases and sports traits similar to McCutchen, who poses more potential for power. Hernandez and pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke were part of the San Diego Padres' wish list when they discussed a Jake Peavey trade with Atlanta before it fell apart last winter. Still, Hernandez isn't Jason Heyward, the power-hitting minor leaguer who tops the Braves' list of top prospects, and he isn't boarding a 5:55 a.m. flight from Indianapolis bound for the big leagues, either.
Today is McCutchen's day, after roughly 500 minor league games. Huntington's future -- two-thirds of that outfield has arrived in trades over the past 11 months -- comes into focus. Chad Hermansen meets Kris Benson meets J.J. Davis meets Clint Johnson meets John VanBenschoten. Jason Kendall meets Sean Burnett meets Paul Maholm meets Neil Walker. First-round draftees have experienced varying success in the Pirates' past. But as Huntington and this administration often refrain, they aim to make this a new beginning.
"I'm real excited. I really haven't been able to sit back yet and think about it," McCutchen said. Of his debut today, he added: "I know it's going to be awesome, I know it's going to be a great feeling. Just bear down and bear with it. I'm sure if I do that, I'll do well."
NOTES -- Last night's Mets-Pirates rainout has been rescheduled for 12:35 p.m. July 2. ... Relievers Tyler Yates (elbow) and Donnie Veal (groin) could go on rehab assignments as soon as next week and Sunday.
First Published June 4, 2009 12:00 am