McCutchen impresses with all-around game

McCutchen impresses with all-around game

McCutchen impresses with all-around game

Because Andrew McCutchen is such a gifted athlete, it's easy to envision him playing other sports besides baseball. When he was growing up in Fort Meade, Fla., he did just that.

"Being from a small town, you basically had a chance to play every sport," the Pirates' star center fielder said. "When it was baseball season, you played baseball, when it was football season, you played football, and when it was basketball season, you played basketball. I played everything, but I seemed to favor baseball more than anything else."

McCutchen left out the fact that he also ran some track, and for anyone who has ever watched him zip around the bases, it's not surprising that he was a sprinter. In fact, as a freshman at Fort Meade High School, he finished second in the state in the 100-meter dash, and was a member of the 4x100 meter relay team that won the state title.

So was "Cutch" more skilled at baseball than he was at other sports?

"It wasn't that I was better in baseball than I was in other sports, it was more like I was better than everybody else as a kid," he said. "My father could see that I was just better than other kids my age, so we pretty much favored baseball."

A significant injury also helped to point McCutchen in baseball's direction. When he was playing running back and wide receiver on the football team as a 10th grader, he tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee and wound up missing the baseball season that year.

"At that point, I really decided I was going to stick with baseball," he said. "I knew I was just as good in baseball and I could probably have a good future there. But if I hadn't gotten hurt, I don't know what would have happened. I probably would have kept playing football and baseball, and there's no telling what decision I would have made."

Pirates fans are, of course, thrilled that McCutchen ended up becoming a professional baseball player. These days, he's one of the elite center fielders in the National League, along with Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Michael Bourn of the Atlanta Braves.

Through Tuesday, McCutchen was hitting .325 and leading the team in most offensive categories -- including batting average, runs scored (35), hits (75), RBI (37), on-base percentage (.382), stolen bases (13) and OPS (.923). During the month of May, he hit a sizzling .360 (31-for-86) with eight homers and 18 RBIs. Those kinds of numbers could very well earn him his second straight trip to the All-Star Game, which will take place at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City on July 10.

McCutchen started playing baseball when he was 5 years old, and due to his athletic ability, he was initially a shortstop and a pitcher. Then as he got a little older, he began to play the outfield. But he didn't become a full-time outfielder until he was 16 -- two years before the Pirates took him in the first round of the 2005 draft.

Now in his fourth season in the big leagues, McCutchen enjoys using his speed and athleticism to impact games defensively as well.

"Yeah, I enjoy that a lot. It's what I'm out there for," he said. "That's what I work on every single day during batting practice -- working on my angles and jumps on balls. I want to make big plays that will get us out of innings and help the pitchers out."

Even though McCutchen, 25, is still young by Major League standards, he is already becoming one of the leaders on the team.

"Oh, I think he's moving in that direction," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's never going to be a pom-pom guy, and he doesn't need to be. He likes leading by example with the way he plays the game and the way he treats his teammates, and with the voice that he does have when he uses it in the clubhouse.

"Certain people just get it done and take [a leadership role], and other people are looking for someone to give them some direction. Andrew is one of those guys that when something happens, he's usually the first one on point to get it right, fix it or head in that direction to do what's best for the team."

Jim Lachimia is a special contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.