McCutchen maintains desire to improve

McCutchen maintains desire to improve

McCutchen maintains desire to improve
Andrew McCutchen enjoyed the finest season of his still-young Major League career during the summer of 2012, but don't expect him to rest on his laurels over the winter. That's just not his style.

The Pirates' All-Star center fielder, who turned 26 on Oct. 10, appeared in 157 games and led the National League with 194 hits. He was the runner-up to San Francisco's Buster Posey in the batting race with a career-best .327 average and he also established career highs in home runs (31), RBIs (96) and runs scored (107). His outstanding performance had the fans at PNC Park chanting "MVP, MVP" on a regular basis whenever he came up to bat.

McCutchen enjoyed what Pirates manager Clint Hurdle referred to as a "blowout year," and after trips to the All-Star Game two years in a row, he's known and respected throughout the baseball world, not just in Pittsburgh.

Four years into his big league career, McCutchen is aware that he's among the best players in the game, but he looks at that in a matter-of-fact way.

"Well, that's what I was drafted for. That's what the Pirates saw in me," he said during the team's final homestand of the season. "It definitely feels good to have the kind of year I had, but at the same time, I feel like I could have been more consistent than I was. The hardest thing in this game is to remain consistent through the course of a whole season."

The Pirates, as a team, are aware of that, too. During the 2011 and 2012 campaigns, there were stretches when they played as well as any team in baseball, but there were other stretches -- especially in August and September -- when victories were much more difficult to come by.

That's something McCutchen tries to look at in a glass-half-full way.

"I definitely try to focus on what we've done right and focus on the things that got us in a good position the first half of the season the past couple years," he said. "I try to remember the things that kept us on a winning edge. I try to learn from the mistakes we made and what caused us to have the downfall, but at the same time, I want to focus on what we did right. I think the more you focus on that, the better off you're going to be going into the next season."

McCutchen usually doesn't unplug from baseball for very long during the offseason. Traditionally, he's given himself a few weeks off, or maybe a month, to recharge both mentally and physically. But that's usually about it, and he doesn't expect things to be different this time around.

"I'll take a little break, but then I'm sure I'll get back at it again pretty quick," said McCutchen, who makes his offseason home in Lakeland, Fla., about an hour away from the Pirates' Spring Training facility in Bradenton, Fla. "Your talent is only going to take you so far in this game. It may even get you to the big leagues, but you're not always going to be able to rely on that.

"You have to work hard for what you want, and that's something I've been doing throughout my career. I'm just going to keep working hard and keep trying to be a better player. There are definitely still things I need to work on."

If McCutchen hadn't become a professional athlete, he might have been a musician. He comes from a religious family and has sung in church for most of his life. He can also play the piano and organ, and Pirates pitcher Joel Hanrahan has referred to him as the best dancer he's ever seen.

"Well, I don't know about that," said McCutchen, laughing. "But I've always been the type of person to really enjoy and be able to listen to any type of music and get something out of it. I've heard it said that athletes and musicians are synonymous. They want to be us and we want to be them. And I think that's true.

"But there's a lot of work that goes into anything you do at an extreme level, whether you're talking about baseball or music or whatever you do for a living. There's a lot of work and a lot of thought put into a process. People don't really know how much work is put into it. They say: 'It looks so easy for them to do that.' Well, the reason we make it look so easy is because we work so hard at it."

And McCutchen plans to stick with that approach.

Jim Lachimia is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.