Year of growth nets McCutchen Aaron nod

Year of growth nets McCutchen Aaron nod

Year of growth nets McCutchen Aaron nod
PITTSBURGH -- If anything was reaffirmed by the reaction to Andrew McCutchen's initial All-Star snub this summer, it was that the Pirates' center fielder is an unknown no more.

Having been near the top of the list of underrated budding superstars for a while now, McCutchen watched as a number of media members, players, coaches and fans came to his defense, lobbying for the outfielder to be a late addition to the All-Star roster.

Vindication came a few days after the uproar, as McCutchen did end up being a late addition. Both the reaction and the attention certainly spoke to the fact that McCutchen has finally emerged from obscurity this season, his third in the big leagues.

McCutchen finished the year ranked second among all National League center fielders in home runs (23) and RBIs (89). Only Los Angeles' Matt Kemp -- an NL Most Valuable Player Award candidate -- had more (39 homers and 126 RBIs). McCutchen's totals in those two offensive categories were also tops on his own club.

"His strike-zone discipline this year has been really good," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He has as quick hands as anyone in baseball. He generates explosiveness off the bat. He is maturing before our eyes, and it's a lot of fun to see."

McCutchen's season earned him a spot as one of the finalists for the Hank Aaron Award, an annual honor given to the top hitter in each league. All 30 clubs have one nominee for the honor. The winner from both leagues will be announced during the World Series, after fans are given the chance to vote on the candidates.

For the second straight year, a special panel of Hall of Fame players led by Aaron will join fans in voting for the award.

On a Pirates club that struggled to maintain much offensive consistency, McCutchen was as much a model of steadiness as anyone. His batting average dipped from last year, but his power numbers and RBI totals rose significantly.

McCutchen also showcased a versatility that was critical to the Pirates this year. He spent the early part of the season filling the club's need for a leadoff hitter. He later slotted into the three-hole, then the cleanup spot and then went back up to hitting third.

In terms of production, there was little discrepancy regardless of where McCutchen batted in the order.

"He expects a lot from himself," manager Clint Hurdle said. "McCutchen truly wants to play on a championship ballclub, and he wants to do what he can do to help that happen. He doesn't have to be the guy, but he has a burning desire for greatness. That is what I see daily. OK is not anywhere close to being good enough."

In addition to measuring up among the league's top outfielders, McCutchen also had a year in which he matched some impressive franchise marks. He became just the eighth player in Pirates history to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in the same season.

"He's just scratching the surface, for me," Hurdle said. "I think his patience [during] at-bats improved dramatically this year. He's had punches thrown at him and challenges, and he has punched back. That's when it really becomes interesting -- when you watch how the league identifies your players and then you watch the ability and recovery time your players show in being able to get back on track."

No Pirates player has won the Hank Aaron Award, which has been handed out each year since 1999.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.