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Pittsburgh’s Other McCutchen

Earlier today, R.J. Anderson took a gander at Kevin Hart, a fifth starter candidate for the Pirates picked up from the Cubs last summer. Hart’s main competition for that fifth spot is Pittsburgh’s far less famous McCutchen, Daniel McCutchen.

The 27 year-old heard his name called in four separate drafts before he finally signed on the dotted line. The Yankees popped McCutchen out of Grayson County (Texas) Community College in the 47th round back in 2003, but he didn’t come to terms with the club. Tampa Bay took a flyer in the 29th round in 2004. Daniel didn’t make a deal with the (Devil) Rays, though. St. Louis fared no better after selecting him in the 12th round in 2005. Finally, the fifth-year senior (having transferred to Oklahoma) came full-circle and inked with the Yankees as a 13th-rounder in 2006.

McCutchen’s career prospects perked up following a July 2008 trade that sent him from the Yankees to the Bucs. In the Bronx, the 6-2 righty was approximately eleventieth on the starter’s depth chart. In Pittsburgh, he has a far better chance to carve out a significant role.

McCutchen has generally mowed down hitters on his way to the majors. In 261 career innings at the Triple-A level, he has whiffed 7.2 batters per nine innings, while issuing just 1.6 walks per nine frames. His FIP in the International League is 3.80.

This past year, McCutchen managed to post the second-lowest percentage of balls thrown in the IL, while boasting the fourth-highest swinging strike rate to boot.

Pittsburgh called McCutchen up last August, and he posted a 5.19 FIP in 36.1 innings covering six starts (19/11 K/BB ratio, 6 HR surrendered).

While his work in Triple-A is promising, there’s a schism between McCutchen’s stats and scouting reports. His four-seam fastball sits high in the zone at 90-93 MPH, and he backs it up with a decent low-80’s slider and changeup. In ranking McCutchen as the #21 prospect in the Pirates’ system, Baseball America mentioned that he’s an “extreme fly ball pitcher” who lacks “a true swing-and-miss pitch.”

Those fly ball tendencies are troubling. During his minor league career, McCutchen has gotten grounders just 39.1 percent of the time. In Triple-A this past season, he burned worms at a 33.6 percent clip. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that PNC Park does a number on home run production. According to the 2010 Bill James Handbook, PNC has decreased dingers by 12 percent compared to a neutral venue over the past three seasons.

For 2010, CHONE projects McCutchen to compile a 4.66 FIP, with 6.26 K/9, 2.52 BB/9 and 1.4 HR/9. Whether he cracks the rotation out of Bradenton or not, McCutchen will likely take the hill as a starter at some point.

The “other” McCutchen won’t draw any rave reviews, though he could be useful in NL-only leagues if injuries leave you scurrying to the waiver wire. He’ll miss a modest number of bats and will occasionally get clobbered by the long ball. However, McCutchen’s stinginess with the walks and homer-suppressing home ballpark should make him an average, cheap starter.