Andrew McCutchen, improbably, is back in his old position with the Pirates, months after the organization tried to trade him. He's intent on proving that his Pirate bosses were wrong and that he's still a franchise cornerstone.
He's on his way, but he still has more to prove.
McCutchen has played his past 12 games in center field, in place of the suspended Starling Marte, after being shifted to right field in the offseason. He has made it clear he wants to stay there. Check out these two plays against the Cardinals on April 18:
"This is MY spot," he said after that first catch.
“Center field is where I need to play. It’s where I’m going to be at. If I need to show a couple people that, you know, I can do what I need to out there, I’m going to do it,” he later told reporters, per the (Pittsburgh) Post-Gazette.
Those "couple people," one can assume, are Bucs manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington.
Let's remember, though, that the Pirates moved the 30-year-old McCutchen to a corner (after not unloading him) because he had a bad year in the field in 2016. He was last among qualifying major league center fielders with minus-28 defensive runs saved. That figure was more than twice as bad as the next-worst center fielder, the Marlins' Marcell Ozuna, who also had to change positions. McCutchen tried to blame the Pirates for playing him too shallow.
The two running catches above are a good start, but the grind of the season will reveal whether Cutch is even a short-term answer at the position.
Recall, too, that McCutchen's offense took a hit last year (career-low .766 OPS), although the home runs were still there (24).
This year's early stats are unexceptional. In 13 games as a center fielder, McCutchen has posted a .220/.365/.415 slash line (inflated by 10 walks), with two home runs and six RBIs. Overall, he is at .237/.327/.419, with four homers and 13 RBIs, in 26 games. That latter set projects out to 25 and 81, which is right around his standard, if he plays a full 162-game season. He hasn't missed a game this year.
The good news for McCutchen is the Pirates will probably need him in center field for a while. Marte's PED suspension is 80 games, which puts his return around mid-July. Top outfield prospect Austin Meadows, the guy the Pirates want to replace McCutchen, isn't ready for the Show.
Then again, if McCutchen regresses in the field, or Meadows' bat catches fire in Triple-A, then Cutch will quickly find himself stewing on the fringes again, both in a physical and an organizational sense.