Pirates' McCutchen the center of attention
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Andrew McCutchen is entering his second full season with the Pirates, but he already has established himself as one of the best young center fielders in the game.
He has picked up numerous awards and honors since being the team's first-round draft pick, the 11th selection overall, in 2005.
McCutchen, 24, was named Baseball America's rookie of the year in the majors in 2009 and selected to the Topps all-rookie team.
In '08, he was an International League All-Star at midseason, played in the Futures Game and was MVP of the Class AAA All-Star Game.
In '06, McCutchen was the Pirates' minor league player of the year.
Second baseman Neil Walker, the Pirates' first-round pick in '04, has been a teammate of McCutchen's for most of those six seasons, either in the minors or majors.
Walker marvels at McCutchen's talent and skills.
"He's above and beyond many guys that I've seen in terms of five-tool talent," Walker said. "He can beat you so many different ways.
"If he's leading off, you're worried about him bunting, you're worried about him hitting a home run, you're worried about him hitting a double or triple. When he gets on base, guys are worried about him stealing.
"He just wreaks so much havoc in every aspect of the game, and there's not many guys that can do that."
McCutchen, considered by many to be the face of the franchise, led the Pirates in hits (163), doubles (35), triples (5), runs (94), walks (70) and stolen bases (33) last season. He also batted .286 in 154 games, hit 16 homers and drove in 56 runs.
He primarily batted in the top third of the lineup and led all National League center fielders with a .363 on-base average. His 33 steals were the most by a Pirates player since Tony Womack swiped 58 in 1998.
"Do the math," said right fielder Matt Diaz, who spent the past five seasons with the Atlanta Braves. "He's capable of scoring well over 100 runs in a year. He's also capable of driving in over 100 runs a year. And on defense, he takes away 100 runs a year. Try to name another player in baseball whose worth 300 runs to a team. I don't know if you can.
"Andrew is that valuable to this team. He's that good a player. I think [opposing] players in the game know he's one of the best outfielders in the game. As far as I'm concerned, he's probably the best centerfielder in the game now."
McCutchen, who recently got a one-year contract, isn't a self-promoter. He prefers to let his play on the field speak for him.
"Beyond everything, our expectation is to win," he said. "That's the only expectation I have right now. That's the only thing I'm concerned about, the only thing I'm focused on. When you win, everything else takes care of itself.
"I'm being very optimistic toward the season, just thinking positive in everything that we're doing. I'm only worrying about things I can control. I can control my approach going into the at-bat, being ready for the pitch, being ready every pitch in the outfield."
McCutchen did not enjoy last year's 105-loss season. He would like nothing better than to help the Pirates snap their 18-year losing streak this season and get picked for his first major league All-Star Game.
"It definitely is frustrating -- the losing," said McCutchen, who has won only one baseball championship in his career. "It's in our history books, so I mean, we are a part of it, even though we haven't played the full 18 years.
"You definitely want to be able to change it around, be the team that changes it around, but that's not what we're shooting for. We're not shooting to just break the streak. Our goal is to win a championship."
General manager Neal Huntington hopes McCutchen can pick up where he left off last season.
"Andrew certainly seems like he's settled in," Huntington said. "He finished the year strong last year, with strong three weeks in September, that put his overall year numbers at a very solid level."
Diaz compared McCutchen's talent level to that of Jason Heyward, the outfield phenom he played with in Atlanta last season.
"Those two guys have a lot in common," Diaz said. "It would be a toss-up for me. I don't think I could pick between the two of them. But I would take either one of them."
First Published March 13, 2011 12:00 am