Monday marks the first day of September, meaning it's that time of the year when a team can expand its Major League roster to include as many players on the 40-man roster as it wants.
For teams in contention, it's a chance to pad the roster with extra pitching and to solidify the bench. As for teams no longer playing for October -- such as the Pirates -- it's a chance to begin evaluating the future.
One of those future pieces will be McCutchen; however, it doesn't appear the Pirates are ready to have the 21-year-old make his Major League debut just yet. While the team will not release the names of those who are going to be called up until after Triple-A Indianapolis' season ends on Monday, most signs point toward a September without McCutchen.
The Pirates have plans to have McCutchen play winter ball, most likely in Mexico. That season begins in mid-November. Couple that extra work with the fact that McCutchen is just finishing his first full season at Triple-A, and this could be a case where extra rest is more beneficial than big league exposure.
"We're asking him to go to winter ball, and the reason he's going to winter ball is to work on some developmental things we've laid out for him," general manager Neal Huntington said. "If he does go to winter ball, it's probably best that he gets some recovery time before it and then before Spring Training."
Second, in order to bring McCutchen up, the Pirates would have to add him to the 40-man roster, and there are no obvious candidates to remove. Asked if there could be a situation where the team would call up someone not on the 40-man roster, Huntington said, "Maybe. But doubtful."
The Pirates will certainly recall outfielder Steve Pearce, who wouldn't have been sent back to Triple-A on Aug. 22 had it not been for the need to keep Nyjer Morgan in the Majors because of Nate McLouth's illness. Pearce and Morgan will likely split time in right during this final month, with McLouth and Brandon Moss manning the other two outfield positions.
As a result, the at-bats just wouldn't be there for McCutchen.
"If we don't bring Andrew McCutchen up, it's not at all a sign that we aren't excited about him," Huntington said. "It's quite the opposite. We are just going through the options to see what's best for him."
Heading into the final day of the Triple-A season, McCutchen had a .284 average, nine homers, 49 RBIs and 34 stolen bases in 134 games with Indianapolis.
So if not now, will McCutchen at least be in position to compete for a starting spot in Spring Training next season?
"Yeah, he will be in competition," Huntington said.
Aside from McCutchen, Indianapolis will send a number of its players to the Pirates later this week. Looking around the infield, first, Brian Bixler would seem to be the most likely candidate to earn the call.
Bixler, who has spent time with the Pirates during two separate stints this season, is the only infielder on the 40-man roster that is not yet with Pittsburgh. This marks the end of his second full season at Triple-A, and with Jack Wilson still potential trade bait over the winter, any extra time Bixler can get in the big leagues won't hurt.
In 85 Triple-A games, Bixler hit .280 with 36 RBIs, though he did strike out 107 times in 318 at-bats.
|"This last span is not a make or break, but there's a lot of things that we're going to find out."|
|-- manager John Russell|
He could be a candidate to back up Ryan Doumit next season.
Then there's the pitching, which typically constitutes the majority of September callups. The Pirates have already announced that right-hander Ross Ohlendorf is on his way up and will assume a spot in the rotation for the final month of the season.
The Pirates will employ a six-man rotation for at least part of the month, giving the organization a look at the top core of candidates for next year's rotation.
"This last span is not a make or break, but there's a lot of things that we're going to find out," manager John Russell said.
Jimmy Barthmaier, who finished 3-1 with a 3.53 ERA in 16 Triple-A starts, will be another candidate to crack that '09 rotation. However, because Barthmaier will be pitching in the Arizona Fall League, it's unlikely that he'll spend a month in Pittsburgh. The 24-year-old righty has already tossed 127 2/3 innings this season.
In the bullpen, T.J. Beam and Craig Hansen appear locks to return to Pittsburgh. Beam was squeezed out of a spot in the Pirates' bullpen in late August, while Hansen was demoted last Wednesday to take a week to focus on some of his control issues. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed 12 walks in 10 innings for the Pirates.
Marino Salas and John Van Benschoten, who has allowed nine runs in 15 2/3 innings since joining Indianapolis' bullpen, would also be call-up candidates. In addition, right-hander Evan Meek has earned the right to be mentioned as a possibility as well.
After being sent down on May 4, the Rule 5 Draft pick started in Double-A Altoona before earning a promotion to Indianapolis. And since then, he's posted an impressive 2.40 ERA in 23 appearnces. The issue here would be that the Pirates would have to add Meek back to their 40-man roster in order to call him up.
"We need to be careful of flooding a clubhouse, but at the same time, we need to call up guys who can help us win games in September and guys who we want to get another look at," Huntington said. "We'll certainly capitalize on the opportunity [to bring up players], but we're looking forward to when we can play meaningful games in September."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.