The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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February 18, 2014

McCutchen arrives early, eager to get started

BRADENTON, Fla. — Andrew McCutchen was almost as busy this winter as he was last season, when he helped the Pittsburgh Pirates reach the National League playoffs.

McCutchen batted .317 and set career highs with 38 doubles and a .404 on-base percentage. The center fielder earned his third straight All-Star berth, won his second Silver Slugger and was the NL Most Valuable Player.

Days after picking up the MVP award, McCutchen flew to the West Coast to be a presenter at the American Music Awards. He played in Shane Victorino’s charity golf tournament in Maui, Hawaii. Back in Los Angeles in December, McCutchen proposed to his girlfriend, Maria, on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

After all that, McCutchen was happy to return to his native Florida and the relative calm of spring training. The Pirates held their first full-squad workout Tuesday.

“I had way more distractions this year,” McCutchen said. “It was a quick offseason, but it was fun. I knew the quicker my offseason, the quicker the season starts and the quicker I’ll get married. That’s fine with me, so I embraced it.”

The early part of McCutchen’s offseason was a whirlwind of appearances related to his status as reigning MVP. He’s the sixth Pirates player to win the award and received 28 of a possible 30 first-place votes.

But after his appearance on “Ellen,” McCutchen’s image as a baseball star also became that of a soon-to-be-married man.

“I wasn’t surprised,” McCutchen said with a laugh. “I knew that after I proposed to her, people would totally forget about the MVP award. That’s as it should be.”

However, McCutchen is all business now that spring training is under way. As usual, he came to camp with a personal to-do list that he shared with manager Clint Hurdle.

“We get his thoughts on the work he’s done this winter and where his focus is this spring, and we’ll see if it matches up,” Hurdle said. “Every year I’ve been here, it pretty much has. Andrew usually comes with a couple focus points. His game continues to get better and more consistent. He sets the bar pretty high for himself.”

This is McCutchen’s ninth spring training. He turned 27 on Oct. 10, the day after the Pirates were eliminated from the NL Division Series.

As he’s become one of the game’s rising stars, McCutchen also is the “old man” of what could eventually be one of the most athletic outfields in the majors.

Starling Marte (23 years old) will start in left field and top prospect Gregory Polanco (22) is expected to take over in right field at some point this season.

“It will be a little different, being the older guy of the bunch,” McCutchen said. “I’m still young. They’re just younger.”

Polanco will likely start the season at Triple-A Indianapolis, although management wants to give him a long look in camp. Tall, strong and lean, Polanco has dynamic speed and is still developing what scouts say should be plus power at the plate.

“I watch (McCutchen) a lot because he plays the right way,” Polanco said. “I watch how he acts on the field, how he works, everything. I look at what he does, the different things, and see what will work for me. He’s like a teacher.”

Notes: LHP Francisco Liriano was selected the Pirates’ opening day starter. Liriano was the NL Comeback Player of the year after going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA. He started the 2009 season opener for the Minnesota Twins. ... Josh Harrison was the only player who did not report in time for the Pirates’ first full-squad workout Tuesday. Harrison’s wife had a baby last week, so the team gave him an extra day to arrive.

 

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