In his fourth major league season, McCutchen hit .327 with a .953 OPS, 31 home runs and 96 RBI. He finished second in the National League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. The 25-year-old's OPS ranked third among NL hitters.
McCutchen has become one of MLB's young superstars and is getting the attention that comes with that success. One example of that is being one of the finalists to be on the cover of MLB 13 The Show. He's one of five players right now that fans can choose from to get that cover photo.
We had the opportunity to talk to McCutchen about that, as well as his breakout 2012 season. We also discussed the work that went into improving his offensive numbers and the defense that resulted in him winning his first Gold Glove.
Andrew, you had what looked like a breakout season last year. But this season, you really took a leap forward with your game, batting over .300 and hitting more than 30 home runs. What was the major difference for you? Were there any changes that you made before or during the season?
Yeah, one of the biggest changes I made was in my batting stance. I was pretty straight through with my stance. Everything was together, compact, and I would hit from there.
But what I did was, I opened my stance and just rested the bat on my shoulders. I told myself I needed to relax, so that's what I did going into the season.
I just stuck with it, kept with it. But I went a whole month where I didn't hit a home run, so there were a lot of times where I was like, "Is this really what I need to do?" But I trusted it, stayed with it and ended up having a really good year.
When do you feel like it finally clicked for you?
You know, I think I really gained the trust when I hit my first home run. That's when I felt like I was where I needed to be.
I went right from the last game of the season, the year before, and said, "This is what I'm gonna do." But I really gained the trust after I hit my first home run and it just went from there. It just took off.
How much of a struggle can that be, mentally? You said there were times when you doubted whether you made the right changes. How long do you have to stick with something like that? Is it something you just have to trust and it eventually comes through?
Oh, yeah—definitely. Anything that you do, anything that you put time towards, you have to have all the trust that you can. You have to believe that it'll work for you.
I feel like with anything that you're shooting for, in your life, there's things that you have to go through. You have to trust that it's going to work out for you, to be able to accomplish the things that you want to accomplish. I feel like it's the same way with baseball, with your stance or anything else. You just have to stick with it and eventually it'll work out for you.
Speed is also a big part of your game. You stole 20 bases this year. Is that a part of your game that gets neglected as you become a better hitter, hit for more power or are you always looking to run?
You know, I get a lot of credit in that area, so it's something that I'm always working towards. In the offseason, it's something I'm working to get better at just so it won't seem like it's getting pushed back. People will see that I'm going to be stealing bases.
I feel like I can be a lot better, and I'm looking forward to stealing more bases and having that opportunity to get that next bag. I want everyone knowing that I'm gonna go, every time I get on base. I wanna have that Rickey Henderson mentality, so they know I'm always going for that next bag.
Is that something you talk about with your manager beforehand, or is that just a change in your game, something you want to attack, going into next season?
Oh, it's definitely something I want to do. It's something the manager and people up top want to see.
They want to see me get to the next level because they know I can I do it. I can be a better hitter. They encourage me to work towards that, to get better. I have their full support.
I just want to keep getting better and have an opportunity to steal more bags.
We've mostly been talking about your offensive game, but you won your first Gold Glove this season. How important was that to you, and did you make any changes in your defensive game? Or do you think people are just taking more notice because you had such a great overall season?
You know, it was one of those things where I've been working at it, and working at it, and working at it my whole career. I'm just trying to be a better defensive outfielder.
I put in a lot of work, I've worked with a lot of different people that gave me a lot of help along the way. I've gotten better.
I didn't necessarily change anything in how I played the outfield. I was just aggressive when I needed to be aggressive, and when I didn't have to be aggressive, I wasn't. That definitely helped me out.
Instead of being 100 percent aggressive all the time, there's times where you don't need to be. There's times when you need to dive, there's times where you don't need to.
I probably dove headfirst maybe three times the whole season. Instead of diving, I would kind of slide and catch the ball that way. It helped me out a lot more.
Were there any other players that you talked to, any tips that you tried to pick up for playing center field?
No, not necessarily. The help that I had was the coaching staff in Pittsburgh, in the Pirates organization. Luis Silverio, who was our first-base coach last year, definitely helped me in the outfield. Guys like Kimera Bartee—who's in the organization, a former player—worked with me and told me some things that helped my thought process.
I assume you enjoy playing center field at PNC Park. But which other ballparks do you like to play in, especially defensively?
St. Louis—Busch Stadium—that's an awesome stadium to go to and to play in. You have so much room to roam, to chase balls in the gap and not have to worry about the wall behind you.
Colorado is probably the biggest one for me. I love playing there. The atmosphere is great. Like I said, you don't have to worry about any wall behind you and can just roam in the outfield. You can run as fast as you can, run balls down and really show your speed.
Those are the two where I love to play.
That's interesting. I've always wondered if center fielders enjoy playing in a bigger outfield or kind of a smaller space. Are there any parks that give you some difficulty because of angles, light or other factors?
Houston was always a big one for me. That's a huge outfield as well, 436 to the wall and they got that little hill. On top of the hill, there's a pole right there. You gotta watch out for that.
There's so many angles and walls, and little corners where the ball can kick off and shoot somewhere else. That was always a difficult place to play because you could never judge where the ball might go.
But, you know, they're not in our division anymore. We won't be playing there much anymore. But it's a great ballpark to hit in.
What is your involvement with MLB 13 The Show? I understand that fans can vote for who goes on the cover through social media this year.
Yeah, the fans get an opportunity to vote for who they want to be on the cover. If fans want me on the cover, they can go on Twitter @MLB13theshow and tweet the hashtag #MLB13Cutch to vote.
I'm happy to be one of the finalists and hopefully can be on the cover.
Have you talked to any of the other players who are in contention for the cover?
No, I haven't. Right now, they're my enemies so I'm not gonna talk to them.
No, I'm kidding. No, I haven't talked to any of them, but I'm sure they're just as happy as I am for the opportunity to be on the front cover and look forward to the competition.
Author's note: Fans can also go to MLB.com/cover vote to choose the cover player, beginning Jan. 7. The other finalists for the MLB13 Cover Showdown are Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Bryce Harper and CC Sabathia.
So you're not worried about a cover jinx or anything like that, like there is with Madden?
No, no—there's nothing like that. Everyone wants to be on the cover. We don't have to worry about injuries or anything like that.
Are you much of a video game guy? I sometimes wonder how much players play, whether they like to play as themselves or other players in the league.
Oh, yeah—definitely. I don't play a whole lot of video games. But I do play some.
MLB The Show is a game I like a lot. It's a great game, as realistic as you can get. It compares to being on the actual field. There's so many more things you can do on MLB 13 than with 12. It's fun, and I can't wait to see how I look on there.
Did they have you do anything to get your likeness in the game? Like did you do motion-capture or anything like that?
No, but they make it unique. They're going to have a home run swing of mine on there, as far as when I hit one and I know I got it. They're gonna mimic that on the video game.
That's going to be cool to see that—and I actually really do that. They make it as realistic as they can, and do a really good job with it.
PirateFest was this past weekend (Dec. 15-16) in Pittsburgh. The event had record attendance this year. What does that say to you about the appetite for a winner in Pittsburgh?
Oh, yeah—these fans are hungry. This is a sports city. They're all about their sports team here. They have our backs and it's great.
Besides PirateFest, we went on something called Caravan where we go to smaller towns outside of Pittsburgh. We go to small schools, we go to malls and we go to signings.
The malls that we went to were so packed. We start at six, and I'm supposed to leave at eight, but I would stay until nine—an extra hour—just to sign for people. They still had to cut the line off. It's incredible, I could've been there until 11 o'clock signing for people.
It's amazing how supportive they are of the Pirates and any team here. Getting that support from the fans means a lot, and it shows they're ready for a winner.
Do you enjoy meeting fans in that environment, at an event like that, compared to chatting with people and signing autographs before a game when you might be focused on other things? Here, it's just you and the fans.
Oh, yeah—I love to have the opportunity to meet fans outside of the ballpark. They get to see you and know you more than just the person that they see on the field. They get to actually interact with us, shake our hands and ask us a couple of questions.
We share some smiles and some photos. It's something that they can't do when I'm on the field.
It's great to be able to meet different people, from little babies all the way up to adults. It's amazing to meet little kids who can barely talk, but are saying my name. I definitely don't take that for granted. I have a lot of fun with it. I love to meet all the fans.
Have you ever gotten any weird requests, being asked to sign a baby or anything like that?
Speaking of signing a baby, I kind of had a reenactment of Talledega Nights with Will Ferrell. [laughs]
They didn't ask me to sign the baby's forehead, but she laid the baby down, laid him right on the table and asked if I could sign his shirt.
I was like, "Ooooh... kay." It was a little different. But I went ahead and signed it. It wasn't too bad, I guess.
One last thing: I saw pictures of you modeling the Pirates' new retro-style uniforms. Do players look forward to things like that? Do you really get into wearing those kinds of retros or throwbacks that nod to the tradition of the team you play for?
Oh, yeah—especially if they look good.
That's fun for us—when you get uniforms that are throwbacks, and they look nice and feel good and fit good. I look forward to wearing those. It shows the history of those before us and they want to bring some of that history back. So us wearing those uniforms mean a lot.
Thank you so much for your time, Andrew.
All right—thanks, man.
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