McCutchen's amazing ride started in February, when the 11th overall pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft earned rave reviews from the Pirates coaching staff for his play in the team's big-league Spring Training camp. He followed that up by hitting .291 with 14 home runs and 62 RBIs in 114 games with low Class A Hickory and being named by Baseball America as the top prospect in the South Atlantic League.
McCutchen was so impressive at Hickory that the Pirates promoted him to Double-A Altoona. As the youngest player in Curve history, the speedy center fielder batted .308 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 20 games.
"It's been a great experience," said McCutchen. "Just to start off in big-league camp -- it seem like everything accelerated from there. It got bigger and bigger.
"It seemed like everything was going so fast in one season. To end up in Double-A, that's something I didn't expect. I was shooting for high A."
McCutchen's big year isn't quite over yet. He currently is participating in the Pirates instructional league in Bradenton, Fla., where he typically plays five or six innings during home games.
"The thing I really need to work on is stealing bases," said McCutchen, who swiped 23 bags in 31 attempts this season. "[The Pirates] think I can steal a lot more bases, and I think I can steal a lot more bases than I did this year."
After breezing through the Pirates farm system in his first two seasons of professional baseball, McCutchen is optimistic that it won't be long before he's making more frequent visits to PNC Park.
"Maybe I'll get a call up next year," said McCutchen. "Hopefully I'm here by '08."
McLouth to have surgery: Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth, who spent the final six weeks of the season on the disabled list due to a left ankle sprain, will have surgery on Oct. 10 to repair a deviated septum.
McLouth broke his nose while in high school, but he never had the septum repaired. The condition slowly has worsened to the point where it is affecting his breathing.
"It's gotten worse, and I can hardly breathe out of the right side of my nose," McLouth said. "It's been tough to sleep."
McLouth had planned to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic to make up for lost at-bats, but he is not sure now if he'll make the trip. Recovery time from septum surgery typically is four to six weeks.
Ping-pong fever: The centerpiece of the Pirates clubhouse has been the ping-pong table that closer Mike Gonzalez purchased early on in the season.
After thousands of spirited games, Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson emerged as the team champion.
Although Freddy Sanchez widely is considered to be the second-best table tennis player on the team, he was unavailable to play Sunday morning -- with the National League batting title on the line and all. So backup catcher Carlos Maldonado, who was the top player at Triple-A Indianapolis, had to step in as the No. 1 contender.
Wilson defeated Maldonado, 21-11, on Sunday morning in the unofficial title game.
"He was ranked No. 1 in Triple-A," Wilson said. "Then he came up to the big leagues.
"If I were doing the rankings," Wilson added, "I would put me first, Freddy second, Maldonado third, Rajai Davis fourth and Gonzo fifth."
What about reliever Damaso Marte, who jumps, screams and dives as if his life was on the line with every point?
"Marte is rookie of the year, most improved," said Wilson. "When he first started playing, he thought a ping-pong paddle was a plate."
Pack it up: As the Pirates players pack their bags and prepare to head home, the clubhouse staff is gearing up for one of its busiest times of the year.
Bats must be inventoried, stored and prepared for shipping to Spring Training. Uniforms must be examined to see which ones must be replaced. Personal items must be shipped to players' homes. New items must be ordered for next year.
"There's no secret to it -- clean up, ship out, repack, inventory and start ordering for next year," said equipment manager Roger Wilson.
"We're busy all winter. We have different projects we spread out over time. It doesn't all get done overnight."
Bucs bits: Pirates manager Jim Tracy and general manager Dave Littlefield held their annual one-on-one interviews with players Sunday morning prior to the season finale. ... Center fielder and leadoff man Chris Duffy was replaced in the starting lineup Sunday by Jose Bautista. The move was not injury related. ... Marte, who has appeared in a career-high 75 games this season, has a $3 million team option for next season that includes a $250,000 buyout. Marte said he had not yet been informed if the Pirates plan to bring him back in 2007. "I don't know if they are going to give me the option or not," Marte said. "If they want me to play, I'll play."
On deck: The Pirates will kick off the 2007 regular season against the Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 2.