Mailbag: Is McCutchen ready?

Mailbag: Is McCutchen ready?

I would assume many of you don't need a reminder as to what today's date is. And at 3:36 p.m. ET, I'm sure many of you remembered exactly what happened 48 years ago. It never gets old, does it?

Anyway, as many of you relive that moment of glory from the past, I'm forced to also look to the future. So here we go with another week's mailbag. And while this space doesn't allow for me to answer every question I receive, please keep those e-mails coming.

We would be crazy to not have Andrew McCutchen start right away next year. Justin Upton and Ryan Braun were very young. The kid needs to be up here in 2009 because there is no reason to wait until he is 26.
-- Joe H., Templeton, Pa.

Well, considering McCutchen is turning just 22 this week, 26 might be a slight exaggeration. But your point is well made. There is a lot of anticipation regarding McCutchen's climb through the Minors and justifiably so. However, management has made it quite clear that they aren't opposed to a conservative track for prospects.

I'd still project that McCutchen will start the season in Triple-A, but that the center fielder will be in Pittsburgh before the end of the 2009 season. However, with Brandon Moss' status possibly iffy for the start of the season, that could open the door for McCutchen to make the club out of Spring Training. Management has said that McCutchen will be given every chance to make the Opening Day roster.

Is it more likely that Pedro Alvarez will play for the West Virginia Power or the other Class A team? I really would love to get to see him play in West Virginia.
-- Shane R., W.Va.

Alvarez will begin next season with one of the organization's two Class A teams, either West Virginia or Lynchburg. GM Neal Huntington hasn't specified which affiliate it will be yet. Management wanted to observe Alvarez in instructional league this fall to see how any layoff may have hurt him and where he'd be best starting. Either way, if Alvarez makes the type of progression that is expected, he likely will move up to the Double-A level fairly quickly.

Do the Bucs have a contract with reliever Craig Hansen? I believe his contract was up after this season. And if so, do they plan on signing him to a long-term deal with his inconsistency?
-- Gary P., Syracuse, Pa.

Hansen received a four-year Major League contract when he was drafted in 2005, and that contract did expire after this past season. However, since Hansen's actual Major League service time is minimal, the Pirates will retain his rights for much longer. Hansen won't be eligible for arbitration for at least two more years, meaning that the Pirates can sign him near the Major League minimum next season.

Are there any left-handed power bats on this year's free-agent market? And if so, should the Pirates make a move to try and get one?
-- Jamall M., Pittsburgh

While there are left-handed free agents to be had, that's not really where the priority lies for the Pirates. It's quite different than two years ago, when that was the club's No. 1 need. Looking at next year's lineup, the Pirates have left-handed power from Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, Moss and the switch-hitting Ryan Doumit. If the Pirates do go out in search of another power bat, it will certainly be of the right-handed variety.

In your article Bucs will count on growth from core, you listed most of the pitchers who made at least a few starts this season, but you made no mention of John Van Benschoten. His performance in the Majors has been terrible over the last two years, but he's been one of the top starters for Indianapolis (17 wins over the past two seasons). What's the outlook for Van Benschoten for 2009? Will he even get an opportunity to compete during Spring Training?
-- Gene P., Latham, N.Y.

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That list of pitchers was done to give the most likely candidates for the '09 rotation. It's not necessarily exhaustive, but it is fairly complete. Van Benschoten is still a part of this organization and will be given a chance to make the club in Spring Training. However, when you look at the list of potential candidates the Pirates have going into next season, it's hard to see him denting the top five. He could try to make the club out of the bullpen.

As good as Van Benschoten has been in Triple-A over the past two years, he has not been able to duplicate even half of that success at the big league level. At some point, you have to wonder when -- or if -- he ever will.

You say there is no option at first base other than Adam LaRoche. What about Doug Mientkiewicz? I would rather see him at first than LaRoche. You never see Mientkiewicz quit on a play or not run out a fly ball or ground out. What is the chance of the Pirates going with Doug over Adam?
-- John K., Pittsburgh

Mientkiewicz certainly became a fan favorite for his hard-nosed, let's-get-the-uniform-dirty approach this year, but he's not going to supplant LaRoche at first. Both are Gold Glove-caliber first baseman, so defensively you're talking about two of the best. However, LaRoche offers the Pirates the power bat that the club needs in the middle of the lineup. With power at the corner outfield positions looking like it will be limited, power at first base is certainly a priority.

Also, while LaRoche's April and May numbers have certainly been a disappointment -- and he'll tell you he's more disappointed than anyone -- be careful to equate that to a lack of effort. LaRoche's natural laid-back personality can often mask his frustration and maybe even his effort, but there is no question that both are there. Certainly everyone would like to see LaRoche find a way to move past his slow-start tendencies, but in the meantime, don't assume that struggles are a byproduct of a less-than-total effort.

Let me begin by saying that I am a loyal season-ticket holder. I want to say that I agree with the Jason Bay and other trades. I say that now Nate McLouth may be with the Yankees by next season. I like the way our new management is going, but when is enough, enough?
-- Mike V., Freeport, Pa.

The Pirates see McLouth as an integral part of this club's future.

The organization has indicated interest in locking McLouth down with a multi-year contract and would have to be blown away by any offer to let him go. Quite frankly, the Yankees, who are in need of a center fielder, don't have the players to make that type of offer. Remember, the Pirates already pillaged New York's farm system for four prospects in July.

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