February 27, 2009
To prepare you for the upcoming draft season, the Noise, every Friday until opening day, will feature a lesser-known prospect that has excellent odds of making an indelible fantasy impact this season. Obvious products David Price and Matt Wieters, and charitable Bon Jovi songs, need not apply.
Deep leaguers who obsess over offensive potential must think Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen is the Larry King of elite prospects. Still only 22, it seems he's been ranked on Baseball America's top 50 prospects list since the Mesozoic Period.
Tightly built and ultra-athletic, the Pirates future star is blessed with magnificent talents. Toolsy like Colorado's Dexter Fowler, who was featured in this space two weeks ago, McCutchen has plus bat speed, an above average eye and tremendous wheels. However, similar to Fowler, his power has yet to surface. Still most scouts agree he should eventually develop into a perennial 20-30 threat. His ceiling: think Corey Hart with more speed.
A superb glove, his defense in center will most likely propel him into the majors sometime this year. Yahoo! colleague Gordon Edes told the Noise Thursday one Pirates scout believes the slender product is already a better centerfielder than Nate McLouth, who is no slouch with the leather.
On film, his versatile skills are impressive:
Last year at Triple-A Indianapolis, McCutchen collected a .283 BA with nine homers, 50 RBIs and 34 steals in 512 at-bats, most accumulated as a leadoff hitter. Under the hood, his 49.4 groundball percentage showed the power bat was definitely in mothballs – a place where it could remain for another year or three. More promising, his walks percentage improved significantly, rising from 8.3 in '07 to 11.7. Although his base-swiping abilities are still unrefined – he was caught stealing 19 times in '08 – the amplitude of walks is a positive sign he could pay immediate fantasy dividends in runs and steals.
McCutchen entered camp with a chip on his shoulder and 10 pounds of additional muscle on his frame. Even though most pundits are ticketing him for Triple-A, the determined outfielder is working hard to convince management its time to remove the kid gloves. Bucs skipper John Russell remarked to MLB.com ideas of the cherished prospect earning an opening day spot aren't farfetched:
"Andrew is one of the top prospects in our organization. He's a tremendously talented player and has made great strides toward the end of last year and the offseason. There is a scenario that he has a chance to make our club out of spring training and we would like for him to be the complete player that he's capable of being, to be able to make adjustments not only defensively but offensively. That being said, if we see these adjustments and growth in spring training, the opportunity is always there for him to break camp with the Pittsburgh Pirates."
Nyjer Morgan's performance over the first two months of the regular season will ultimately decide McCutchen's '09 fate. The Juan Pierre-like veteran has compiled a career .351 OBP, but contributes little else offensively outside steals. If Morgan flounders, McLouth will likely be shifted to left to make room for McCutchen. However, it's also possible Eric Hinske or Brandon Moss could wrestle away playing time in the event an opportunity arises.
Unless he miraculously morphs into Barry Bonds 1990, or even Andy Van Slyke, Pittsburgh's premiere farmhand will start the year at Triple-A. Knowing that, he's still worth a $3-$5 bid in NL-only formats and a late-round flier in Grand Canyon-deep mixed leagues because of 20-plus steals potential. For now, expect him to race alongside PNC's costumed pierogies by midseason.
Fearless Forecast: 250 at-bats, .268 BA, 5 HR, 27 RBI, 36 R, 17 SB
Image courtesy of US Presswire