The futility of the Pirates' first-round picks in the amateur draft for more than a decade has been well documented. Although Kris Benson had a couple of decent years, and Paul Maholm has been a decent starter the last season and a half, that's been about it.
"Of course people expect you to do well because of where you've been drafted," McCutchen told me before the season, "but when it's all said and done, they're just going to look at if you can get the job done."
The Pirates traded Nate McLouth partially because they thought McCutchen was ready to man center field, and so far, he hasn't disappointed. In 17 games since being promoted, he's had eight multihit contests and hit .333 with one homer, 13 runs, 13 RBIs and two steals. He's slugged .538 on the strength of five triples, which remarkably ties him for the National League lead in that category already, and he's also in the middle of a 10-game hitting streak.
Though the 22-year-old's numbers haven't always been eye-popping in the minors, his potential was undeniable and you could see the improvement in his game each season as he started to turn more of his immense athletic ability into production on the field. He also pays close attention to his strikeout-walk ratio and has been able to improve his walk rate while cutting down on his strikeouts each season, even while advancing to a higher level.
"The biggest thing for me has always been pitch selection," McCutchen said, "and working the count, having good at-bats and not missing your pitch. If you don't hit your pitch the majority of the time, you're not going to be successful."
Blessed with strong wrists and forearms, excellent bat speed and good pitch recognition, McCutchen stings the ball from gap-to-gap. I've seen him at various stages of his career, and unlike some other "prospects," has gotten better each time I've seen him. He's more upright and in less of a crouch than in previous seasons, which is helping him make more consistent, authoritative contact and he does a better job of keeping his hands inside the ball better and handling pitches on the inner half. In the past, he had a longer swing as he tried to muscle up and hit the ball out of the park. He also became a little too pull-happy, but he's shorter to the ball now, appearing to understand his game better.
Obviously one of the main tools in his game is speed and whereas he tried to steal bases in the past just on his wheels alone -- which led to 19 times caught stealing last year -- one other scout told me he's doing a better job of reading pitchers and getting good jumps this year. He has a great first step to steal bases, and as the triples attest, can really fly when he gets underway.
Fantasy owners will continue to benefit immediately from his speed and batting average, and while his size and swing plane are going to limit his homer potential, there's at least teens power there with full-time play.
He's owned in just 30 percent of ESPN leagues as of this writing, and that number is lower than it should be. The bottom line is that it looks like McCutchen is going to be a fixture in the lineup for both the Pirates and for mixed-league fantasy owners for the foreseeable future. Considering the Pirates haven't really hit on a first-rounder since Jason Kendall in 1992, it's been a long time coming.
• Part of being successful in fantasy play is thinking one step ahead of your opponents and being proactive instead of reactive. So while Aaron Poreda may not have much fantasy value right now in a relief role, he's likely next in line for a shot at the White Sox rotation and when that happens he'll be in much more demand, especially because he has a chance to have some immediate success.
The 22-year-old southpaw was a first-round pick in 2007 thanks to his consistent 95 mph fastball and loose, proper arm action. The White Sox have been aggressive in his development; he's reached the big leagues after just 46 minor league starts, including 11 this year at Double-A, where he struck out more than a batter per inning, allowed just one homer and showed a propensity for inducing ground balls when he wasn't getting whiffs.
Poreda's heater has a good downplane angle from his 6-6 frame with some natural lefty tail at times and batters say that it's a little tough to pick up. He's also not afraid to go upstairs with it, and does a good job of throwing strikes. He really didn't have a good slider when he was drafted, but the White Sox have done a good job of helping him refine the pitch. It has late, downward, three-quarters tilt when it's on, although he still needs to be a bit more consistent with it and maintaining its mid-80s velocity. His modified circle change (he kind of grips it like he's clawing the ball) is also still in development, but there is sink and he maintains his arm speed. I haven't seen him live since an extensive look at the Arizona Fall League and a couple of brief outings during spring training, but reports are that both of his secondary pitches have improved by leaps and bounds at Double-A and that he's gained a lot more confidence in his breaking ball.
Poreda has to watch his delivery because he will sometimes cut off his follow through and turn off to the side. "When I'm not staying parallel to the plate, it gives my fastball more cut that I don't want, and it affects my command of it," Poreda said.
He's also shown some feel for commanding both sides of the plate and at times has to back off to locate, but the raw stuff to succeed in a big league rotation is clearly there.
"In order to be a starter in the big leagues you have to have three quality pitches," Poreda said, "and I believe there's been a lot of improvement in the rest of my pitches, and I'm not afraid to throw them at any time. I think the slider has given me a nice one-two punch [with the fastball.]"
If you have the room in deeper leagues, stashing Poreda away for later could pay some dividends, because there's a fair chance he's in the rotation at some point in the second half and could have some sleeper mixed-league value down the stretch. For AL-only leagues, he's an immediate play if he's still out there. Get him for his talent, and hope that eventually his role will sort itself out.
Jason breaks down Kyle Blanks' potential and all you have to do to read it is join ESPN Insider.