The first email came through at 7:05 last night. Then a wave of text messages came rushing in to either inform me or get my immediate opinion about the Pirates trade. Last night the Pittsburgh Pirates traded their All-Star gold-glove center fielder Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for minor league pitchers Charlie Morton (reporting to Indianapolis), Jeff Locke (heading to Class-A Lynchburg), and OF prospect Gorkys Hernandez (going to Double-A Altoona). The move allows the Pirates to call up uber-prospect Andrew McCutchen.
The 22 year McCutchen moves from Victory Field to the green grass of the Major Leagues. McCutchen will lead off today and play in center field.
On Tuesday I sat down with both Andrew and Neil Walker and we talked for about 20 minutes about the season and past adversities they have faced in their careers. In the back of my mind I really believed this was the last week McCutchen would be wearing an Indians uniform. He was scheduled tonight to receive the Indians ‘Player of the Month’ award for hitting .304 scoring 22 runs and driving in 14. Instead he will make his Major League debut. ‘Cutch enters today’s game having hit in his last 7 games and 17 of his last 20 games (32 hits in his last 20 games). So it appears I’ve conducted his last minor league interview. Shortly I’ll bring that to you, but for a moment I want to talk about the trade.
I was sitting at a north side Buffalo Wild Wings with my friend and proud new papa Mark Petro. The first email detailing the deal came to me while Mark was telling me about his healthy new boy Jacob. Mark has worked the past two seasons with the Indians grounds crew and he is a big McCutchen fan (he immediately added him to his fantasy team). Mark asked me what I thought and I felt the same way I did last August when RHP Jesse Chavez finally received his call. I was last night, and I’m still this morning, genuinely excited for ‘Cutch. Just two days ago he opened up to me how frustrating the wait can be and now the wait is over. The wait does come at a price. McCutchen moves into CF because the Pirates dealt away the current face of the franchise. Nate McLouth deserved his All-Star nod last season. Don’t think for a minute he was added because each team needs to have a rep, he deserved that spot. Fox Sports Pittsburgh is constantly running McLouth commercials and fans were hoping he would be their next star. Now you can add him to the list of up and coming players traded away. McCutchen now gets the chance he has been dreaming about, but I’m sure he NEVER thought it would be due to a trade. I’ll have reaction about the trade when the Indians players start rolling in after noon. You better believe I’ll be down in the clubhouse today at 12:35 watching ‘Cutch lead-off the bottom of the first.
Charlie Morton is expected to join the Indians today and I’m told will throw in today’s double header. I’m not sure which game, but from what I understand he will get to work immediately. Charlie Morton is 7-2 this season with a 2.51 ERA. I saw Morton pitch last year for the Richmond Braves and what really stands out in my memory is his curveball. Last year he went 5-2 with a 2.05 in 13 Triple-A games before making his ML debut June 14th. Morton appeared in 16 games making 15 starts last summer for the Braves. He was 4-8 with a 6.15 earned run average. Morton is now a Pirate and tonight will start for the Indians. Morton is 25 years old.
Here is the conversation I had with Neil and Andrew just two days ago. With what has happened some of Andrew’s answers will give you an idea of why I’m so excited he is getting this chance and maybe you will root for him at the next level.
Scott: Neil, you have played with Andrew since the end of ’06. What is different about him this season from past years?
Walker: I think his understanding of the game is a lot better than it has been in the past. He knows what he does extremely well, which is a lot of things, and he knows the things that he needs to work on, which is bunting. He plays his game and never strays away from that. This year you never see him go out of the zone and you don’t see him chase pitches. It’s no surprise that he is hitting over .300 and if he puts the ball on the ground there is a very good chance he is going to safe at first base. Not to mention he is a gap-to-gap hitter. His game is so versatile and now that he knows how to use the speed part of his game it makes him so effective.
Scott: Did he leave anything out?
McCutchen: Nope, (smiling) that sounded good.
Scott: You still don’t bunt that much.
McCutchen: I was talking to Brano (Indians Hitting Coach Jeff Branson) and he was saying that he would like to see me bunt a little more, but it’s just the fact that I bunt when I don’t feel great. It’s supposed to be the opposite where you feel good you should bunt. When I feel good swinging, I don’t want to give away a swing when I can possibly hit a double, triple, or even a home run instead of laying down a bunt to reach first base. I struggle with always wanting to compete and showing the opposing pitcher that I can hit you and I’m not going to bunt. That’s the biggest thing for me. I may be 0 for 2 against a guy and I want to get a hit. I compete against myself to get a hit instead of laying down a bunt. That has always been a struggle with me.
Scott: I personally feel you’re not in the mold of Juan Pierre or Nyjer Morgan, but more of a Grady Sizemore type player. Are you a lead-off hitter?
McCutchen: Yeah, I feel like that’s a good spot for me because I can get on base, steal bases, and score runs, so I feel that is a lead off type. You look at Grady Sizemore, this is a guy who hits for power, he gets on base, he steals bases, and he scores runs. It’s the same thing with Johnny Damon and Alfonso Soriano they have power, but their lead off guys. I can’t go and say I’m not a lead off guy when I could possibly do the same things those guys are doing. I look at myself as a lead off guy and the more I accept that, then the easier it will be for me to be in that spot.
Scott: What part of Neil’s game would you want to add to you game?
McCutchen: I want his left-handed bloop doubles (laughter). The fact that he can hit from both sides of the plate is commendable. I have always wondered what it would be like to come up to the plate and if there is a left handed pitcher, I’ll be hitting right handed and if there is a right hander starting, I’d be hitting from the left side. You may feel good on one side of the plate and not feel good on the other side. He (Neil) has to work overtime on his game and I commend him for that and I forgot he was even a catcher. He has only played two full seasons at third base and he’s good, real good. I went on the Lynchburg website and he is on the top (banner) in his catching gear. I forgot he was drafted as a catcher and he plays third base like he has always been there. Great defensively and he can hit with power from both sides of the plate. He is an all-around good player that you want on your team.
Scott: I have only watched you as a third baseman and your one of the best in the league. When did you get over last year’s draft and trade?
Walker: Uhhhhhhh (Neil tilts his head back) I’d say probably towards the end of August when I looked at how the season was winding down and I realized that I was not only playing for myself and my teammates, but you are also playing for 30 other teams in the league. I’m not saying I’ve given up and that I have no chance against said (Pedro Alveraz) and said (Andy LaRoche) guys because I’ve always believed in my heart that I’m going be a long time Major Leaguer. What has always made it special for me is the possibility that I could be playing at home in front of my family and friends. Besides that, I could care less where I play or what position I play. At some point you realize, and this didn’t happen to me personally until the end of last year, but I basically said I don’t care who is in front of me or behind me (on the depth chart) I know what I can do and what I have to do on a daily basis and I know that I can play this game. I don’t care what anyone else is doing, you just have to go out there and grind every game and when that doors opens you have to take advantage of it. Obviously that hasn’t happened yet, but you can’t look at from a standpoint of…these guys don’t like me and why should I play hard or even bother doing this you? I just have to take things in stride and realize what has gotten me to this point will also get me to the next step. I truly believe guys like me and Andrew are getting ready to take that next step permanently. When you see guys who go up, you sometimes scratch your head and think, maybe if I was in that organization I would be up, but at the same time you see those same guys coming down. Matt Laporta was tremendous here and goes up and we’re thinking, oh your never going to see him again and he’s back down. We may spend more time here than we should, but when we go up we won’t have to come back.
Scott: Are you guy’s patient?
McCutchen: You have to bee patient
Walker: This game will just eat you up if you’re not.
Scott: When did you figure that out?
McCutchen: (long sigh) 2007 was more of a year when I started to learn to stay out of politics and stay out of the newspapers. They don’t know, the only person who knows is the GM. That’s the guy who is going to make the decision. I had a good spring training in ’07 and people were telling me I was going to make the team out of spring training, but that didn’t happen. I had a meeting and was told if you keep doing what your doing, there is no telling what could happen and then I became impatient and had a slow start at double-A and had to play catch up. Right there I knew I needed to take it day by day and everything will take care of itself. Then ’08 came and it was more of a year where I knew I wasn’t going to make the team out of spring training. So I was kind of playing like I didn’t want to be there because I knew I’d be in Indy. I didn’t have a great spring training, but I had an OK season. I was hoping I would have a September call-up and that didn’t happen. That was a motivation for me to work harder for this spring training and things turned round in ’09 when they told me there was a possibility of making the team if I showed them that I was ready. I had a good spring training and I STILL didn’t make the team. So I come back here to Triple-A saying everything happens for a reason and everything will happen at the right time. So don’t rush yourself, don’t pressure yourself just take it day by day. In the long run you’ll be there. I know I’ll be there sometime because they can’t hold you down forever you just basically take it day by day because if you put too much pressure on your self then that’s when you try and do too much and that will create errors. Pretty much I’m going game by game and try and make it hard on them to make a decision.
Scott: ‘Cutch you’re knocking down the door. Neil, I know your buddies ask where you are, but do they ask about Andrew?
Walker: Oh yeah, every conversation I with anyone from Pittsburgh. First of all, every single person in Pittsburgh since 2004 has wondered where I’m at. They assumed I was going to play for the Pirates from the moment I was drafted. Every conversation about baseball goes, hey how’s it going? Where are you, what are you doing, or where are you guys playing? Then they say, good, so what’s up with ‘Cutch!? So I’ve been answering those questions like ‘Cutch is my brother. He’s going be a guy that is going to get there and most likely make an immediate impact and Pittsburgh has been waiting for a player like him. I’m hoping to be a supporting cast type of player. That doesn’t mean I can’t be an all-star or what not, but I like Andrew to take the limelight.
Scott: Neil, your dad was 23 when he made his ML debut, is that in the back of your mind?
Walker: I didn’t know that. Honestly, I didn’t know that, maybe he mentioned it. He tells me about his minor league days and he made the rise after he was a rule V pick. Last year when I wasn’t called up in September, I knew I had to be protected, so for a second I thought I might have been a rule V. I was like, hey, it worked for my dad maybe that’s a good thing for me, but fortunately I was protected. I didn’t know about him getting the call at 23 and I’m hoping that’s the case for me. September 10th is my birthday so come on guys, you can get me up there before that.
Scott: Andrew, are you ready?
McCutchen: I remember I had a conversation with our minor league director and he asked me that same question and it was more towards the end of the year (2008). They asked me if I was ready and I told them of course I’m ready, I feel ready, why wouldn’t I tell them I’m ready? I was shot down last year and this year my answer is who knows if I’m ready. I feel like I’m ready, I’ve had a good spring training and I’ve played against big league teams, I think I’m ready. But no one knows if your ready until you are actually there. I’m preparing for it and if I continue to keep feeling the way I’m feeling and keep doing what I’m doing then they won’t have much of a choice, but to call me up there. I feel like I’m ready, but I can’t do much about that except keep playing here and tearing it up. I’m going to keep having good at bats and good games. Basically each day I go out trying to get to where I want to be. I feel real good right now and I can’t try to do too much, that’s the biggest thing with me, is to relax and stay within myself. If I have a good game every day they’ll see that and the time will come soon.
The two of them do so many interviews and I’m thankful they gave me 20 minutes after batting practice. I don’t know what it means for a player to be ready, but I do know that McCutchen doesn’t have anything else to prove at Triple-A. When I see a player who reaches that point then I figure there ready.
Please click on the “Pirates Links” on the side bar of this blog to find more information on the trade as well as the debut of Andrew McCutchen.