Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Inbox: Will Cutch bounce back this season?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers Pirates fans' questions
MLB.com

With the Pirates enjoying an off-day in New York, it's time to open up the Inbox and answer questions about Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, upcoming roster moves, Jung Ho Kang and Josh Bell.

How come an MVP-caliber player (McCutchen) has fallen so far down in his average and caliber of play? Maybe because he cut his hair?
-- Marc T., Pittsburgh

With the Pirates enjoying an off-day in New York, it's time to open up the Inbox and answer questions about Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, upcoming roster moves, Jung Ho Kang and Josh Bell.

How come an MVP-caliber player (McCutchen) has fallen so far down in his average and caliber of play? Maybe because he cut his hair?
-- Marc T., Pittsburgh

I can say one thing for certain: McCutchen's issues have nothing to do with his hair. He sliced off his dreadlocks in the spring of 2015, had a bad April (partly due to a sore left knee), but he still finished fifth in the National League MVP Award voting. Long or short hair, that'll play.

:: Submit a question to the Pirates Inbox ::

McCutchen still isn't sure what happened last season, making his career-worst numbers even more baffling. However, he finished strong to salvage what turned out to be an above-average offensive season. Speed and defense are concerns in the long run, but there's reason to believe he'll bounce back at the plate again.

Video: ARI@PIT: McCutchen makes a great catch on the track

He believes he pinpointed the problem and benefited from the brief benching last week in Atlanta, which gave him time to work without pressure. McCutchen explained that his swing had become too "rotational," so his quick hands weren't synced up with the rest of his body. They whipped around too quickly, so he was getting out in front and pulling too many balls -- even outside pitches -- to the left side of the infield rather than lining them to right.

That's why McCutchen's walk-off homer on Monday -- an outside fastball ripped into the right-field seats -- stood out as a sign his work is paying off. Over the last week, he's 8-for-21 with two homers and two doubles.

When Marte comes back, will he or McCutchen be in center field? Then, if Marte is in center, will they move Gregory Polanco to left or keep him in right field?
-- Derrik Z., Sharpsville, Pa.

There probably won't be an answer until Marte is closer to returning, so stay tuned in July to see where he plays during his rehab assignment. A return to left field seems possible since the Bucs completely undid their outfield realignment by moving Polanco back to right. That seems to be the best fit for Polanco.

Keep in mind the non-waiver Trade Deadline is less than two weeks after Marte's suspension ends. If McCutchen is dealt, the Pirates could put Marte back in center with Adam Frazier (or top prospect Austin Meadows, if he's ready) and Polanco in the corners.

With Alen Hanson and Gift Ngoepe out, who will the Pirates call up? Time for Meadows?
-- Jim H., Pittsburgh

Video: PIT@ATL: Ngoepe runs out infield RBI single

The club hasn't announced a roster move, but it was clear on Wednesday that Hanson and Ngoepe weren't traveling with the team to New York. Ngoepe can be optioned to Triple-A, but Hanson would have to clear waivers to stay in the system. I would expect to see infielders Max Moroff (13 homers in 42 Triple-A games) and Phil Gosselin (optioned to Indianapolis after a rough start) take their spots on the bench.

If Kang gets a visa soon, when can we expect him in Pittsburgh?
-- Dan M., Cumberland, Pa.

The longer he's away, the longer the post-visa delay. General manager Neal Huntington has said Kang will require at least some form of Spring Training when he reaches the United States. Considering his offseason has now stretched on eight months, that process might take a month or so.

But for any of that to matter, Kang must acquire a work visa. There's been no indication he's closer to getting one. On May 18, a court denied Kang's appeal of a suspended eight-month sentence following his third DUI since 2009, and there has been no further news out of South Korea or PNC Park.

Why isn't Bell playing complete games to obtain the valuable experience that he lacks at first base? He leads the team in home runs and we need his bat in the lineup throughout the game.
-- Todd M., Jefferson Hills, Pa.

Video: PIT@ATL: Bell doubles down the line to plate Frazier

At some point, manager Clint Hurdle said, the Pirates hope Bell becomes a "nine-inning defender." He's not there yet, in their evaluation, so they're still replacing him with John Jaso or Jose Osuna when a high-leverage reliever is on the mound.

This has become a common complaint -- more than it was for Pedro Alvarez in 2015 or Jaso early last year, it seems -- because when Bell is hot, his power bat is a game-changer. It's also because Bell hasn't made many notable misplays this season, passing the eye test, and he's tied for the team lead with 3 Defensive Runs Saved.

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.

Pittsburgh Pirates