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McCutchen seeking return to MVP level

March 29, 2017

BRADENTON, Fla. -- As the Pirates fell out of the playoff picture last season, they also dropped out of the running in the race for regular-season awards.In 2015, the Bucs were well-represented among the National League's best. Andrew McCutchen finished fifth for the NL MVP Award, and Gerrit Cole received

BRADENTON, Fla. -- As the Pirates fell out of the playoff picture last season, they also dropped out of the running in the race for regular-season awards.
In 2015, the Bucs were well-represented among the National League's best. Andrew McCutchen finished fifth for the NL MVP Award, and Gerrit Cole received a down-ballot vote. Cole was fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting, and former closer Mark Melancon received a handful of fifth-place votes. Jungho Kang was the third-place finisher in the balloting for NL Rookie of the Year Award, and Clint Hurdle finished fourth in the NL Manager of the Year Award race.
Last year? Not a single vote in any category.
The Pirates would like to see that change this year -- not for selfish reasons, but because a handful of individual turnarounds should lead to a collective bounce back into contention. As part of MLB.com's Opening Day preview, here are Pittsburgh's players to put on awards watch.
MVP Award
If not for last season, you could automatically write McCutchen's name here and move on. McCutchen's disappointing campaign took him out of the MVP race after four straight years of top-five finishes, a run that included his award-winning 2013 season, but he could get back into the mix this year.

McCutchen figures to fare better in right field, which should improve his defensive numbers and therefore his overall production. After an encouraging two-month stretch to end last season, will his bat bounce back to MVP levels? That remains to be seen.
Also keep an eye on the Pirates' new center fielder, Starling Marte. He won his second straight NL Gold Glove Award and made his first All-Star team last season, and he might have received a few down-ballot MVP votes if he had not been limited to 129 games by a sore back.
The only two things missing from Marte's game last year: A healthy September and home-run power. His homer output dropped from 19 to nine, though he still slugged 34 doubles and five triples to go along with his .311/.362/.456 batting line.
Cy Young Award
This field is loaded, so it would take a lot for Cole to work his way into the conversation. But if he stays healthy and turns a strong spring into a resurgent season, Cole merits a mention. He was one of the game's best young pitchers in 2015, and injuries were the main culprit behind his '16 setback.

Rookie of the Year Award
This might be the Pirates' best chance to bring home some hardware. Josh Bell barely hung onto his rookie status, accumulating 128 at-bats -- two fewer than the cut-off of 130. Bell should get enough playing time to capture voters' attention, and he hopes to build on a solid debut in which he hit .273/.368/.406 with more walks than strikeouts in 45 games.

The other candidate is top prospectTyler Glasnow. If his dominant Triple-A performance translates to the Majors, he'll be among baseball's most intriguing rookies. Will he earn a rotation spot and hold it down long enough to have a chance? Stay tuned.
Manager of the Year Award
It's not far-fetched to think Hurdle would become a leading candidate if the Pirates somehow surge back into the postseason picture. Managers are often judged for this award based on their club's performance relative to the previous season, so a swing from sub-.500 into October would certainly attract some attention.

Hurdle won the award in 2013, then finished second in '14 and fourth in '15, so voters recognize the role he's played. He has already deftly navigated several tricky situations, most prominently McCutchen's move to right field. If Hurdle were to help keep the small-market Pirates in the hunt against the powerhouse Cubs and annually contending Cardinals, surely he'd merit further consideration.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.