Around the Horn: Cutch leads talented outfield

Around the Horn: Cutch leads talented outfield

With Spring Training two weeks away, it's time for an in-depth look at the Pirates' 2017 roster. This is the sixth part of an eight-part series checking in on the Bucs' current and future options at each position. Next up: outfield.

Big question: Will Cutch be Cutch?

It's the most significant question facing the Pirates this year. Will Andrew McCutchen return to form?

The worst season of McCutchen's career, both offensively and defensively, has been covered from every angle. So, too, was Pittsburgh's willingness to consider trading the face of their franchise. But McCutchen, 30, remains a Pirate and seems eager to get back to work. Considering his track record, the inspiration provided by a rough season that finished on a strong note, the Bucs expect to see a revitalized McCutchen.

In December, McCutchen said "motivated" doesn't properly describe his mentality entering Spring Training.

"Something a lot higher than motivated," McCutchen said. "I'm hungry."

Where will that hunger lead McCutchen this year? If he rebounds and the Pirates aren't contending at the Trade Deadline, will they again consider dealing him? Is this the franchise player's last year in a Pittsburgh uniform?

Top Ten Right Now: Marte

The starters: McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco

While McCutchen struggled, Marte continued to shine. The 28-year-old made his first All-Star team last year, posting an .818 OPS with 47 steals and capturing his second straight Gold Glove Award in left field.

Marte led the team in WAR (4.9) despite missing most of the season's final month with a back injury. The Pirates primarily need Marte to be healthy, but more home run power -- he hit nine last year -- wouldn't hurt, either.

Will this be the year Marte supplants McCutchen in center? The Pirates are looking to optimize their outfield defense, and Marte is widely regarded as one of the Majors' best defenders.

Polanco, 25, simply needs to build on the bright spots of his 22-homer campaign. He hit .287/.361/.506 through the end of July -- high-level offensive production accompanied by solid defense in right field -- then he cooled down in August and September. Polanco led the team with 86 RBIs and finished third with 17 steals, maintaining his speed while adding power.

Around the Horn: Catcher | First base | Second base | Shortstop | Third base

Backing up: John Jaso, Adam Frazier, Alen Hanson, Jose Osuna

The Pirates don't need to carry a dedicated backup in center because all three starters can play there. Jaso is expected to work the corners, essentially replacing fourth outfielder Matt Joyce, and Frazier will assume Sean Rodriguez's utility role.

Hanson, a utility infielder, spent some time in Triple-A playing left field. Osuna should begin the year in Triple-A, but he is on the 40-man roster and has experience in left and right.

Depth: Danny Ortiz, Eury Perez, Barrett Barnes

Keep an eye on Barnes, the Pirates' No. 25 prospect, after he came on strong in Double-A late last season. Ortiz and Perez also will be in camp as non-roster invitees and should factor into the Triple-A outfield mix.

Next up: Austin Meadows

Meadows made it to Triple-A last season, so MLBPipeline.com's No. 10 overall prospect is only a call away from the Majors.

Meadows, 21, lit up Double-A for 45 games last season, batting .311 with a .976 OPS. His average dropped to .214 in Triple-A, but he still showed patience and power at the plate with speed on the bases. Injuries have been an issue for Meadows, but he's one of the Minors' most promising talents when healthy.

Meadows will be in Major League camp and could crack the Pirates' roster later this year, but his future is likely tied to that of McCutchen. Whenever McCutchen and the Pirates part ways, expect Meadows to take his spot alongside Marte and Polanco in Pittsburgh's outfield.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.