BRADENTON—Andrew McCutchen has been the Pirates' starting center for the last 1 2/3 seasons. Yet the Pirates are still trying to figure out exactly what they have in the 24-year-old.
McCutchen has outstanding speed and is developing the kind of plate patience that could make him one of the game's better leadoff hitters. However, his ability to hit the ball into the gaps and occasionally over the fence also could make him a possible run producer.
The Pirates could use both after finishing next-to-last in the major leagues in runs scored last season, in front of only the Mariners. So they will spend spring training trying to find out where McCutchen, considered one of the two cornerstones of the Pirates' latest rebuilding effort along with third baseman Pedro Alvarez, fits in the batting order.
"I've hit first and I've hit third in the big leagues, and I really feel I can help out at either spot," McCutchen said during a break at the Pirates' spring training camp.
McCutchen has started more than three times as many games as the leadoff hitter (190) than the third-hole hitter (53) in his fledgling career. However, his statistics are a touch better while batting third as he has a .390 on-base percentage and .824 OPS in 219 plate appearances as opposed to a .358 OBP and .831 OPS in 849 trips to the plate as a leadoff man.
First-year manager Clint Hurdle sounds as if he would prefer to hit McCutchen third, saying "we think it could lengthen our lineup and helps us score more runs, which is something we certainly need to do"
"My approach really doesn't change regardless of where I'm at in the lineup," McCutchen said. "You always want to take good at-bats and get on base and, if there are runners on base, drive them in. That's the goal every time you step into the batter's box."
Having been part of two of the Pirates' record streak of 18 consecutive losing seasons, McCutchen has one preference that overrides Hurdle's lineup card.
"I just want to win," McCutchen said. "I'm tired of losing. I'll do whatever (Hurdle) he wants if it means we'll win more ballgames."