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Pirates MVP McCutchen eager to report early for another spring training

| Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 10:15 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen works out Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Andrew McCutchen has made a habit of arriving early for spring training.

Position players are required to report a few days after pitchers and catchers begin their workouts. However, McCutchen usually is on the practice fields a day or two before the rest of the outfielders.

That probably will be the case again this year. The Pirates officially open camp Thursday morning when pitchers throw long toss on Field 1 at Pirate City. The entire team won't assemble until Tuesday, but you can expect to see McCutchen back at work by this weekend.

Why the early check-ins? It's convenient for McCutchen to get to camp; he lives just a 90-minute drive from Pirate City. He always had had the kind of work ethic that made him the National League MVP last season. And some of it simply was due to the exuberance of a young player.

None of that has changed — even if McCutchen isn't such a young player anymore. In fact, this year, he is the “old man” of the Pirates outfield and knows that status brings added responsibility.

“We all eventually turn into that,” McCutchen said with a laugh. “Before, I always was the ‘young guy' on the team. Eventually, that all changes. Call it evolution, I guess.”

McCutchen turned 27 on Oct. 10, the day after the Pirates were bounced from the NL Division Series. He got engaged during the offseason. And he had reached the midpoint of his six-year, $51.5 million contract.

This will be McCutchen's ninth straight year in big league camp. He'll shag flies in center field, flanked by Starling Marte (23 years old), Gregory Polanco (22), Jaff Decker (23), Jose Tabata (25), Andrew Lambo (25) and Travis Snider (25).

“That's going to be a little weird, I guess,” McCutchen said. “I'm still young. They're just younger.”

Tall, fast and strong, Polanco is the Pirates' top minor league prospect. He'll almost certainly begin this season at Triple-A Indianapolis, but most scouts say Polanco will be ready to patrol right field at PNC Park before the summer is over.

Polanco realizes this spring training will be a pivotal period for him. So he wants to spend as much time around McCutchen as possible.

“I watch him a lot because he plays the right way,” Polanco said. “I watch how he acts on the field, how he works, everything. I look at what he does, the different things, and see what will work for me. He's like a teacher. We talk a lot. We laugh and have fun.”

In early January, McCutchen was among a handful of position players who attended the team's voluntary minicamp. As he jogged off the field, McCutchen spotted Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire, a pair of 2013 draft picks who were there for mandatory workouts with the minor leaguers.

McCutchen chatted and joked with the two 18-year-olds for a few minutes. Last summer, he briefly met Meadows and McGuire when they were at PNC Park to sign their contracts.

“It's pretty cool for him to remember who we were and come over to talk,” Meadows said. “I've always looked up to McCutchen. As a kid, I was a Braves fan, and I didn't know much about the Pirates. But I watched baseball all the time, and I could tell he was a standout player. I could tell he was the head of the organization, a good guy to look up to.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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