Pirates pushing McCutchen gradually

Pirates pushing McCutchen gradually

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield hasn't cut Andrew McCutchen just yet, but he said his talented young outfielder is bound for the Minors.

"He's not going to stick," Littlefield said on Tuesday. "That's not any statement about him not being a good player; it's relative to where we are. [Chris] Duffy's going to play center field, and McCutchen's going to go to the Minor Leagues. But we think it's important, because of how advanced he is, that he gets some more time in big-league camp, in the bigger venues against the 'A' teams and pitching. It will help him progress."

The 20-year-old McCutchen was hitting .286 (12-for-42) in the Grapefruit League through Tuesday during his first year of big-league camp, with two doubles, a home run and a stolen base.

Perhaps even more impressive, however, is his glove -- McCutchen has routinely made highlight reel-worthy catches while in both center and left field. On Saturday alone, McCutchen had three dazzling putouts, proving that his speed and ability to read the ball as it comes off the bat are top-notch.

Littlefield said that McCutchen, the Pirates' first choice in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, could benefit from a little extra seasoning. Pirates director of player development Brian Graham agreed, and he said in February that McCutchen's performance will dictate how quickly he progresses through the ranks.

"He's done a fantastic job," Littlefield said. "It appears he's not that far away from being a Major League player."

McCutchen, too, realizes that there are some things he would like to work on, and he may see his time in the Minors as an opportunity to do just that. He's mentioned before that he'd like to fine-tune his fleet feet into swiping more than the 23 bases he took in 134 games last season.

"It's something that I really want to work on," he said "I know I can get a lot more than [23 steals] with my speed. It's going to be a big key to my game this year.

"It's all areas of basestealing, from what pitcher it is and what the catcher's throwing, learning the pitcher's moves ... certain things like that. I'm still learning -- that's a big part of my game that I need to work on."

If the past is any indication of the future, McCutchen may very well see time in the big leagues before the season's end. Littlefield said that because of the way McCutchen had performed in the preseason, the club was considering sending him straight to Triple-A Indianapolis, a step up from where he finished last season. He's torn through the Minors in his two years, playing for the rookie-league Pirates and low-A Williamsport in 2005, then beginning 2006 with high-A Hickory before earning a promotion to Double-A Altoona.

Pittsburgh's 2006 Minor League Player of the Year has hit .298 in his Minor League career (221-for-741), with 36 doubles, eight triples and 19 homers.

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.