BRADENTON, Fla. (AP)—A few days ago, a sleepy morning in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ clubhouse was brightened when Andrew McCutchen walked into the room.
McCutchen was laughing, as usual, and soon other players were, too. Everyone seemed to perk up as McCutchen quickly changed into his workout gear and headed onto the field.
At just 23 years old and with only 123 days of major league experience, McCutchen already is emerging as the team leader.
“Andrew carries himself with a maturity well beyond his years,” general manager Neal Huntington said.
“He’s got confidence,” manager John Russell said. “He’s been in the limelight for years without even being there (in the majors). He’s the type of guy who relaxes and has fun. That helps him play the game the way he does.”
A first-round draft pick in 2005, McCutchen for years was the lone bright spot in the Pirates’ minor league system. He nearly made the team out of spring training in 2007, but former general manager Dave Littlefield wisely chose to give him more time to develop.
The past two years, McCutchen was among the final, tough cuts in spring training camp.
“He went back to Instructional League in 2008, when he thought he probably should’ve been called up, and handled it better than anyone could’ve imagined,” Huntington said. “And he handled it well when he was sent out again last year. What we thought (would happen) toward the end of the summer instead happened in (June) and he hit the ground running.”
McCutchen made his debut June 4, the day after center fielder Nate McLouth was traded to the Atlanta Braves, and singled in his first at-bat. McCutchen wound up batting .286 with nine triples, 12 home runs and 54 RBIs out of the leadoff spot.
Baseball America named McCutchen its major league rookie of the year. He finished fourth in voting among baseball writers for the Rookie of the Year award.
This year, McCutchen’s spot on the roster is assured. He smiled when asked what he can do for an encore.
“Try to have an even better year,” he said. “Shoot high, work hard and hope for the best. I prepared myself well this offseason, so I want to have an even better year.”
McCutchen started 108 of the team’s final 109 games. Yet, unaccustomed to the grind of a major league season, McCutchen wore down by September.
“He geared his offseason workouts to make sure he’s a little stronger in his legs,” Russell said. “He still has some things we think he can improve on: his throwing; his first step in the outfield; constant adjustments in hitting. He wants to be more aggressive on the bases, maybe steal a few more this year. He’s got a very good outlook this year.”
NOTES: Relievers Octavio Dotel (oblique) and Joel Hanrahan (elbow) are on track to begin their throwing programs by mid-week…Tuesday, the Pirates were scheduled to play a charity game against the State College of Florida. Bryan Morris and Donnie Veal were among seven Pirates pitchers slated to work one inning apiece. …Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf each will pitch one inning Wednesday in the Grapefruit League opener against the New York Yankees. Virgil Vasquez, D.J. Carrasco, Chris Jakubauskas and Brian Bass also are slated to pitch.