McCutchen could be latest in Pirates' 25/25 club

| Saturday, July 7, 2012, 11:42 p.m.

Andrew McCutchen stepped in against Detroit's Max Scherzer during interleague play at PNC Park. Quickly behind 0-2, McCutchen crushed a high-and-tight 96 mph fastball to the Left Field Loonies.

He later denied Jhonny Peralta extra bases, beating a line drive to the warning track in enough time that he could have indulged in Manny's BBQ before making the catch.

McCutchen's blend of power and speed hasn't been witnessed in Pittsburgh since the manager in the visitors' dugout that day skippered the Pirates.

“We had two-way players like (Andy) Van Slyke and (Barry) Bonds,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I think (McCutchen) is one of the best two-way players in the game. He can beat you with his legs, and he can beat you with his power.”

McCutchen's wheels and quick wrists have him on pace for historic home run and stolen base totals. The two-time All-Star could join Van Slyke and Bonds as the only Pirates to blast 25 homers and swipe 25 bags in a season. Van Slyke did it in 1988; Bonds pulled it off four times (1987, 1990-92).

“(Bonds) is one of the greatest players in the game,” McCutchen said. “To have my name even thrown in the mix there is definitely a big honor.”

McCutchen's numbers are similar to a young Bonds. From age 22 to 24, Bonds' on-base-plus-slugging percentage was 29 percent above average. McCutchen's OPS was 24 percent above average.

Bonds broke out at age 25, hitting 33 home runs and lifting his OPS to 70 percent above average while winning his first MVP. McCutchen's OPS is 81 percent above average during his age-25 season, and he's on pace for 31 homers.

Could MVP be in McCutchen's future?

“I don't know, man,” he said. “I don't like to put myself with another person. I like to be myself. That's the thing — you're always going to be compared to somebody else in the past. I'm just going to remain me and do what I do, and the comparisons will take care of themselves.”

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who played with and coached power-speed threats like George Brett and Ian Kinsler, thinks a more refined approach has allowed McCutchen to hit for average and power in 2012.

McCutchen had the third-highest slugging percentage (.610) in the majors entering the weekend and led all players with a .360 batting average.

“The consistency at the plate is much more pronounced this year, and I think the power is going to continue to play out,” Hurdle said. “The plane of that bat is what's nice. You don't see that dip, that Nike ‘swoosh,' to his swing with a lot of balls in the air.”

“I'm just trying to put a good swing on the ball and drive it to the gaps,” McCutchen said. “The home runs will come when that happens. It's all about taking that same swing and bat path to the ball.”

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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