What to Make of McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen is a top prospect. Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein rated him as a five-star prospect, second in the Pirates system to Pedro Alvarez. Similarly, Baseball America ranked him as the Pirates best prospect heading into the 2008 season. McCutchen spent 2008 at triple-A, and may be poised for a call up to the majors. Let’s look at what to expect from him from a fantasy perspective.

McCutchen was only 21 years old in 2008, but played the entire year at triple-A. Therefore, his line of .283/.372/.398 is actually a lot more impressive than it looks. Age is a crucially important factor in determining a prospect’s status, and any 21-year-old who can simply hold his own in triple-A is well ahead of the game. Although McCutchen didn’t show much power, a .372 OBP is quite a feat for someone so young.

However, McCutchen had an underwhelming line in double-A in 2007 as well, hitting .258/.327/.383. Again, he was only 20 at the time, so his line is a lot more impressive than it looks. Still, that’s two straight underwhelming seasons – so why is he even worth writing about?

Three reasons: first of all, McCutchen is probably a lot better than his lines from 2007 and 2008 showed; secondly, he is very likely to get called to the majors in 2009; finally, he could contribute to your fantasy team right away.

I’ve covered the idea that McCutchen is better than his lines showed – scouts love him, and he was so young for his level that simply being decent is quite an achievement. Furthermore, he has shown consistent improvement in both his walk rate and strikeout rate since 2006 – his walk rate has risen every year (even though he’s played against tougher competition), and his strikeout rate has fallen. Again, this is doubly impressive considering that McCutchen has moved up a level each year and is still so young.

Furthermore, the Pirates have an opening in center field. Yes, I know that Nate McLouth played there last season, hit quite well and even won a Gold Glove. However, simply put, McLouth is not even an average defensive center fielder – he was a whopping 40 plays below average (last among qualified “center fielders”), according to John Dewan’s numbers. Even if he’s not quite that bad in center, McLouth should hit enough to man a corner, and McCutchen is supposedly an above-average defender. Center field is McCutchen’s for the taking, and he should grab it some point in 2009.

Finally, McCutchen is an excellent long-term prospect, and many believe that he will develop power to complement his speed, defense, and improving plate discipline. However, his career slugging percentage in the minors is .414, and he’s hit a total of 39 homers in 462 career games. Therefore, it’s fair to surmise that while power may come in the future, he’s probably not going to hit 25 homers at the major league level in 2009.

However, McCutchen may be able to help you in the steals department. He stole 34 bases in 135 games in 2008, and even though he was caught 18 times, he’s only been caught 25% of the time he’s attempted a steal in the minors. In other words, McCutchen is probably an efficient enough base stealer that the Pirates won’t hesitate to turn him loose on the base paths.

Furthermore, McCutchen’s improving strikeout- and walk-rates suggest that he may be able to maintain a respectable batting average (and OBP) in the majors. The BA would help you for obvious reasons, but the OBP will help him get more opportunities to steal bases (and score runs).

McCutchen is unlikely to break camp with the team, and I’d guess that the Pirates are savvy enough (and far enough out of contention) so as to wait until late May or early June to bring McCutchen to the majors, thereby preventing him from attaining Super Two status in three years. He’s probably not going to make enough of an impact to make him draft-worthy in shallow mixed leagues (although those of you who play in leagues like this may want to snatch him up if/when he does get the call to the majors). However, anyone in deeper mixed leagues or NL Only leagues may want to stash him on your bench, as McCutchen could be an excellent source of steals when he finally gets called to the big leagues.

And for those of you in keeper leagues, there are few better long-term prospects than Andrew McCutchen.

We hoped you liked reading What to Make of McCutchen by Peter Bendix!

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