Pittsburgh Pirates: 4 Reasons Andrew McCutchen Will Only Get Better
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The 2009 National League Rookie of the Year has made the Buccos relevant again despite wrapping up their 20th consecutive losing season just last week.
Since his emergence as a primarily defensive option with unpolished offensive skills, the All-Star center fielder has developed into one of baseball's most complete players.
Consistent improvement each and every every season has made Andrew McCutchen's ceiling virtually limitless.
And his impact on the team is noticeable.
Certainly the increase can be attributed to many, but McCutchen's addition to the Pirates lineup has significantly contributed to a 17-win improvement from the year that he entered the league.
Pittsburgh failed to finish above .500 again in 2012. But their 25-year-old starting center fielder gave fans reason to believe the end is near.
Here are four solid reasons that Andrew McCutchen will continue to get better—
He Is Only 25 Years Old
Andrew McCutchen congratulates teammate Jose Tabata during an Oct. 2 against the Atlanta Braves
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We begin with the obvious.
Andrew McCutchen's emergence as one of the game's elite outfielders has come at a surprisingly young age.
With his 26th birthday around the corner, few players McCutchen's age can match up with the center-fielder in terms of talent and potential.
In just his fourth season in the bigs, Pittsburgh's franchise centerpiece made an early case to run away with the National League MVP award in 2012.
A .362 average and 18 home runs at the All-Star break highlighted a Pirates team that climbed as high as 16 games above .500.
The clear-cut most valuable player for the first half of the MLB season did drop off a bit in the late summer months; however, McCutchen still managed to lead the NL in hits with 194.
He remains in the top-ten of virtually every major offensive statistic with the exception of RBI—a fault that could be partially attributed to the weak lineup around him.
Chances are that Milwaukee's Ryan Braun or San Francisco's Buster Posey will take home the award at the end of the day, but Andrew McCutchen's 7.0 WAR shows that he will likely be one of the best all-around players in baseball for some time to come.
Andrew McCutchen attempts to make a diving catch in the outfield on Sept. 23, 2010 against the St. Louis Cardinals
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One of the greatest parts about Andrew McCutchen's game looking forward is that it has no holes.
Unlike many of the one-dimensional offensive superstars or power-hitting .200 averages we see in modern baseball, the Pirates center fielder can do it all.
When McCutchen emerged onto the scene in 2009, we saw a defensive stud who possessed the tools to develop into a premier player.
Well, he has polished those tools.
And just four years later, the Pirates' franchise player has solidified himself as one of baseball's best overall players.
With all of the big-name overpaid superstars around Major League Baseball, McCutchen has quietly made a name for himself over in Pittsburgh.
Humble attitude and all, the 2012 NL MVP candidate stands as one of very few league-wide who can say they have five "plus" parts of their game.
Defensive range was never a question. The outfield assists have gone down, but he still has the arm.
McCutchen led the National League in hits this past season and smacked a career-high 31 home runs along the way. And he has never stolen fewer than 20 bases.
The point is that Andrew McCutchen has room for improvement.
Because he is so multi-dimensional, he can progress as an outfielder, baserunner and batter alike.
Even slight improvements in each category would contribute significantly to his overall profile and separate McCutchen from the rest.
No, I'm not suggesting he is going to retire as the next Willie Mays.
But I do think he might have a few MVP trophies lying around ten years from now.
Andrew McCutchen acknowledges Starling Marte during an Oct. 2 matchup against the Atlanta Braves
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For a while, it appeared as though 2012 was going to be the year.
Reaching as many as 16 games above .500, the Pirates were seemingly on the verge of snapping one of baseball's most embarrassing streaks.
And then it all came crumbling down.
Pittsburgh lost 29 of their final 41 games to finish the year 79-83, completing their 20th consecutive losing season.
The feat isn't anything to be proud of considering it is the worst such streak in North American professional sports history.
But at least fans of the Pirates have some reason to keep their head up.
Such an elongated stretch of mediocrity has inevitably caused hope for the future.
Though Pittsburgh avoided a last-place finish in 2012, their consistent failure to finish higher than fourth in the division over the past decade has yielded a handful of high draft picks and promising young talent.
The Pirates caught a glimpse of the future this season when Starling Marte made his MLB debut in July.
The five-tool prospect has drawn comparisons to MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, and some have gone as far as to suggest Marte could move McCutchen to a corner outfield position.
With one of the game's most promising outfields, the Buccos also have hope for the infield. Shortstop Allen Hanson has surprisingly emerged as one of the organization's top prospects.
At just 19 years of age, Hanson isn't quite ready to make the leap to the bigs; however, a recent six-year deal for McCutchen means the Pirates should have plenty of time to develop some of their young studs into legitimate protection for their All-Star center fielder.
Andrew McCutchen bats during an Oct. 2 game against the Atlanta Braves
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My last argument just might be the strongest.
Just look at the numbers...
Since his rookie year in 2009, Andrew McCutchen has seen fairly drastic increases in nearly every offensive statistic annually.
Career highs in runs (107), hits (194), home runs (31), RBI (96) and OBP (.400) made the Pirates center field a legitimate MVP candidate in 2012.
And he is still only 25 (26 on Wednesday) years old.
It might be unrealistic, but if the trends were to continue, we could be looking at one of the all-time great outfielders based on his overall abilities.
Of course it is too early to make such suggestions. I, for one, don't see McCutchen hitting 30 home runs each and every season from here on out.
But I do see him continuing to improve in almost every offensive category.
I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Pittsburgh's pride eclipse the 200-hit mark in coming years. And I expect consistent contention for batting titles and MVP awards in the National League.
Because Andrew McCutchen has the work ethic and motivation to complement his enviable raw talent.
The two-time All-Star simply has it all.