Minors Report: Andrew McCutchen

Minors Report: Andrew McCutchen

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Andrew McCutchen is the gem of the Pirates' farm system, and he has been for a while now.

However, whiles fans may have bemoaned Monday's announcement that McCutchen had been cut from Major League camp, the outfield prospect needs a little more polish before he is ready to man the PNC Park outfield.

McCutchen hit just .235 in 15 games this Grapefruit League season, and his nine strikeouts in 34 at-bats showed that there is still some work to be done in improving his patience and pitch selection at the plate, something that was touted as one of McCutchen's strengths in the past.

By sending McCutchen to Triple-A Indianapolis, the Pirates ensure that the first-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft will get consistent playing time. He plans to use it as a springboard to Pittsburgh, where McCutchen has said he sees himself ready to play before season's end.

"A lot of guys tend to slow down and take a break when they go down," McCutchen said. "You have to keep it up and show that you belong in the Majors. I've had three good springs now, and having this one shows that the other two weren't just flukes.

"I feel like I have shown them I belong," he continued. "I believe that I belong."

Reading the radar gun: It's been a frustrating road for Bryan Bullington, who has gone from the No. 1 overall pick in 2002 to a pitcher still unable to penetrate the Majors. His road hasn't gotten any easier, as he now knows that a start in the Majors is out of the question for this season.

When Bullington received the news on Monday that he had been cut from Major League camp, he met with Pirates manager John Russell, general manager Neal Huntington and farm director Kyle Stark, who unanimously told Bullington that they believe he hasn't yet reached his potential.

According to Huntington, the new management is convinced that Bullington has more velocity to offer on his fastball and has left Bullington with the task of trying to add a few miles per hour to that pitch when he starts in Indianapolis, even if it means that Bullington won't be able to pitch as deep into games.

Starting five: The Pirates are set to have a Triple-A rotation with two first-round Draft picks -- and potentially three -- to start the season. With both John Van Benschoten and Bullington having already been optioned to Triple-A, the Pirates will have their top 2001 and '02 Draft picks heading the rotation.

Another spot would be taken by lefty Phil Dumatrait -- if he does not make the Major League club as a reliever. Dumatrait, a first-round selection by the Red Sox in 2000, was a starter throughout his climb in the Minors, though he has been looked at as a reliever so far this spring.

If the organization decides to start Dumatrait in Indianapolis, it would be to prepare him as a potential spot starter for when the Pirates need to dip into their Minor League system midseason.

It looks as if the Pirates will fill out their Triple-A rotation with right-hander Ty Taubenheim and righty Luis Munoz.

Who's in center: Depending on how the final 10 days of Spring Training play out, the Pirates are looking at a variety of options when it comes to the makeup of their outfield at Triple-A. Steve Pearce is a lock to start in right, and McCutchen is slated to start in one of the other two outfield spots, though whether it will be left or center is still undecided.

If Chris Duffy is healthy enough to avoid a start in extended Spring Training, he could be Indianapolis' starting center fielder.

And then there's the chance that Nyjer Morgan could be joining the Indians' roster if he loses out in the battle for the Major League center-field job and is subsequently sent to the Minors. If Morgan stays with the Pirates, outfielder Kevin Thompson appears to be in line as the fourth outfielder in Indianapolis.

It has not yet been decided what the Pirates will do with four outfielders that they would ideally like to have playing every day.

"It's too early for us to think about scenarios," Huntington said recently. "The outfield is the one area where we have a little extra."

They're No. 1: Brad Lincoln will take the next big step in his recovery from right elbow surgery when he takes the mound to pitch in a Pirates Minor League game against the Red Sox down in Fort Myers, Fla., on Thursday.

Lincoln, who had reconstructive surgery last April, estimated himself to currently be 85 percent healthy. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2006 Draft, Lincoln has been throwing bullpen sessions and batting practice in recent weeks at Pirate City.

Class of '07: Participating in his first professional Spring Training, Brian Friday, the Pirates' third-round pick in last year's Draft, again took infield practice at Major League camp on Wednesday. He was brought over to McKechnie Field to be a reserve infielder for the Pirates' night game against the Yankees.

The Pirates' development team continues to be excited about the infielder's upside, particularly his defensive ability. Though he has played some second and third base in the past, Friday has been told by Pirates management that for now, he will be used exclusively as a shortstop.

"My strength, being a shortstop, is defense," said Friday, who was named the "Best Defensive Infielder" in the Pirates' Minor League system by Baseball America prior to the opening of camp. "My No. 1 priority is defense. But I don't consider myself a slouch at the plate. That's an area I am always looking to improve."

The Pirates have Friday slated to start in high Class A Lynchburg. Friday played 40 games at short-season State College and hit .295 with 13 RBIs after being drafted last June.

What they're saying: "The biggest thing for me was the grind. And another big thing is that everybody [you face] is a good pitcher. You're not facing any slouches to pad your stats, like you did in college." -- Friday, on the biggest adjustments from playing baseball in college to playing as a professional

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.