A. McCutchen ready for encore

A. McCutchen ready for encore

BRADENTON, Fla. -- For the first time in his career, Andrew McCutchen arrived at Spring Training knowing exactly where he is heading. After years of making his best spring impression and still ending up in the Minors, McCutchen has arrived on the big league scene. And he's here to stay.

The former first-round pick made his Major League debut in Pittsburgh last June, less than 24 hours after the club dealt away All-Star center fielder Nate McLouth. McCutchen wasted no time collecting his first hit, and he added a three-homer game and a walk-off homer to his rookie-season chapter before the year ended.

Now, McCutchen enters 2010 as one of the Pirates' cornerstones. He will bat at the top of the lineup and is sure to provide some dazzling defensive plays in the outfield. The 23-year-old is a popular pick to be an All-Star very soon, and is already a fan favorite.

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While preparing to be on an Opening Day roster for the first time, McCutchen took some time to talk with MLB.com about his 2009 success, and what he sees coming.

MLB.com: What are your expectations for 2010, from both a team perspective and an individual one?

McCutchen: From a team perspective, it will be more just being ready to play every day and basically preparing yourself right now to be able to play a full season and do what we need to do to win games. We want to be able to say that we got beat, and not that we lost. That's the biggest thing for us as a team.

Individually, it's just getting myself ready and getting myself prepared every day to do what I need to do to help this team win.

MLB.com: Do you think the 2010 Pirates are a better club than the '09 one? And if so, in what ways?

McCutchen: I think so. I wasn't able to spend the whole season with the '09 Pirates, and I know they had a lot of changes, so it's tough to be able to compare the two. Now, we have a real team, and I don't think anyone is going to be going anywhere this time. I believe we have a good team, a special team. I think we'll be able to do some really good things.

We've been able to play against the Red Sox and teams like that here in Spring Training, and we've been able to compete. It gives us a lot of confidence going into the season.

MLB.com: What would you tell fans who ask why they should be excited about Pittsburgh baseball in 2010?

McCutchen: I would say be excited just because it's a new team and we're excited. If we're excited, then you should be excited. I guess that's how I would put it.

MLB.com: Has there been a different feel to Spring Training this year as compared to years past?

McCutchen: Oh yeah, it has. Just being able to come here and not worrying about when it's going to be my time to go into the office and talk to [manager John Russell about being sent to the Minors]. It's been more of just doing what I need to do to prepare myself for the season and to not worry about anything else. It's just being able to be more relaxed and just knowing what I need to do to be ready.

MLB.com: When you look back at your rookie season, what achievements or moments especially stand out to you?

McCutchen: Of course, when I first got there and just getting the first everything out of the way. From the first hit to the first strikeout, just getting the first everything is what I can remember. And everything else that came with it -- the three home run game, the walk-off [homer], just all of the above.

MLB.com: In what particular areas do you see room for growth from last year to this one?

Early schedule
For the first time since 2005, the Pirates will open the season at home, with a three-game set against the Dodgers. The team better enjoy the comforts of PNC Park then, though, because it will play 16 of the next 22 games on the road. That's not an especially favorable schedule for a Pittsburgh club that went 22-58 away from home last year.

You can circle April 23-May 2 as a key stretch for the Pirates. The 10-game road trip begins in Houston before the club heads to Milwaukee for three. The Pirates have lost their last 21 games played at Miller Park. The trip then concludes with four in Los Angeles against last year's NL West champs. If the Pirates can get through this trip and the entire month without too many bruises, fans in Pittsburgh might have some hope for the season.

Interleague Play
The Pirates will host the White Sox (June 15-17) and Indians (June 18-20) as part of the team's Interleague schedule. Interestingly enough, this will mark the fifth straight year that Interleague Play will feature a matchup between the White Sox and Pirates. Pittsburgh's other three Interleague series -- Tigers (June 11-13), Rangers (June 22-24) and A's (June 25-27) -- will all be on the road.

Key home dates:
April 5-8 vs. Dodgers . The first home series of the season is always worth highlighting, especially when it marks the first time since '05 that the Pirates will open the year at PNC Park. Pittsburgh has won its last three Opening Day contests.
June 18-20 vs. Indians . It's not the Steelers and Browns, but anytime Pittsburgh and Cleveland meet, there's always a little extra intensity. With the series falling over a weekend this year, the club is expecting a full ballpark on all three dates.
July 1-4 vs. Phillies . You'll have the Phillies and fireworks on this holiday weekend, which should be a treat to all the Pittsburghers who remember when they used to have a legitimate baseball rivalry with the east part of the state. Last year's home series against the Phillies was one of the most exciting of the Pirates' season.
August 20-22 vs. Mets . Just over two years after he played his last game as a Pirate, Jason Bay will make his first return trip back to PNC Park. Now with the Mets, Bay is expected to get a warm welcome from a city that he called home for nearly six full seasons.

McCutchen: I just really want to be able to spread the things that I pick up on. I think I can pick up something on the field that no one else may see. I want to be able to go tell my team, 'This is what I see and this is what I'm doing.' It's going to be good to spread that and be more talkative with the team and not sit back as much. I want to show the team that I'm here and I'm here for them and playing for them, and that I want to win like they do.

MLB.com: So, do you consider yourself a team leader then?

McCutchen: I don't know. I really don't know the true definition of that. I don't know what I see myself as. I just see myself as a person that's just going to go out there every day and give everything that I have.

MLB.com: You have talked about wanting to steal more bases this season. Do you have a number in mind, and how have you worked this spring to improve in that area?

McCutchen: If you want to put it as a goal, [you can]. I just put it more as every opportunity I get, I am going to go. Every time that I get the opportunity, I'm going. I don't want to come to the dugout saying I should have gone. Every time I'm able to go, I need to go. However many stolen bases that ends up being, who knows? That's just pretty much the biggest thing for me.

MLB.com: As you were coming up through the Minors, you were always pegged as one of the potential saviors of this franchise. Do you look at yourself that way? And how have you handled the pressure of being such a highly touted prospect?

McCutchen: I didn't really pay too much attention to it. I guess because not only here, but even in high school, eyes were always on me, too. Coming up as a kid, eyes were always on me. I didn't look at it as that big of a difference. I treated it just like I would back then. I didn't worry about it.

I didn't put the franchise name on myself. That came from other people saying that. There's no point in putting pressure on yourself when you're not the one calling you that. I just pretty much go out there and stay within myself and play the game.

MLB.com: We hear a lot about the talent that is following you in the Minor League system -- guys like Pedro Alvarez, Brad Lincoln and Jose Tabata. Is there a sense of excitement knowing that those prospects are getting close?

McCutchen: It's always good. When I was coming up through the Minors, we didn't have that much depth. We had the team in the big leagues and we had just a select few guys that could take their places. Now, we have that depth in the Minors. We have guys behind us that, when they get here, they'll be able to execute things that need to be executed and help us win ball games. It's going to be real fun. It's just very exciting to see them. I can't wait to be playing alongside them.

MLB.com: You and Lastings Milledge have been attached at the hip this spring. Are you ready to make any predictions for what kind of year he is going to have?

McCutchen: I believe he's going to have a great year. He had a pretty good year when he got here last year. Just due to all the injuries he had, he wasn't able to have the season that he wanted to put together. If he just stays healthy and keeps working hard, he's going to have a great year, I believe.

We're going to keep each other light on our feet and laugh and keep each other comfortable. That makes the game a lot easier.

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