Around the Horn: 'Dream' outfield

McCutchen, Marte, Polanco return as Trio Grande

February 5th, 2016

With Spring Training just around the corner, it's time for an in-depth look at the Pirates' 2016 roster. This is the fourth of a six-part series checking in on each position. After covering their catchers, first basemen and infielders, let's look at the outfield.

PITTSBURGH -- This is about as simple as it gets. No new faces. No position battles. Just Andrew McCutchen flanked by Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco -- arguably the best outfield trio in the Majors.

This "Dream Outfield" is the Pirates' foundation and greatest strength. They'll hit toward the top of the order, showcasing speed and power. They're all capable of playing center field, allowing them to cover PNC Park's vast outfield. But there still is room for improvement.

Around the Horn:Catcher | First base | Infield

It all starts with McCutchen, in his prime at 29 years old, coming off his fourth straight top-five finish in the National League MVP voting. The perennial All-Star hit .292/.401/.488 with 23 homers and a career high-tying 96 RBIs last season.

McCutchen battled back from a terrible start caused largely by a banged-up leg. He hit .194 in April, struggling to pull the ball with his usual authority. His average exit velocity in April was 88.9 mph, according to Statcast™. That figure ticked up to 91.9 mph the rest of the season, and McCutchen rounded back into MVP form.

"I definitely wasn't 100 percent," he said. "I overcame things that I needed to overcome physically and mentally and did what I needed to do to get myself back."

Quietly, Marte has taken his place as a star alongside McCutchen. The 27-year-old left fielder received a number of defensive awards last year, including his first Gold Glove. He earned the accolades by recording 16 outfield assists and 24 Defensive Runs Saved.

Marte also continued to deliver at the plate. Despite hand and oblique injuries, he hit .287/.337/.444 with 19 homers, 81 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in 153 games. Yet the Pirates believe he still hasn't reached his ceiling.

"Marte showed what he's capable of doing and where he's capable of going from here," McCutchen said. "He can continue to get better."

McCutchen said the same about the final piece of the Pirates' outfield puzzle, the 24-year-old Polanco.

"He's got some room to grow," McCutchen said. "But the potential is out the roof."

The long-limbed lefty took a step forward last season, hitting .256/.320/.381 with 27 stolen bases, but those numbers don't do justice to the strides he made midseason.

After a tough June, Polanco hit .326 with an .894 OPS from July 6-Aug. 28. He was slowed at the end of the season by a knee injury that eventually required a platelet-rich plasma injection.

Additionally, Polanco may have been the victim of some bad luck on balls in play. His .481 average (51-for-106) on batted balls over 100 mph was well below the National League average of .614 last year, according to Statcast™.

"I'll keep trying to hit the ball hard, take good swings, have good ABs," Polanco said. "And whatever happens, happens."

Having been through his first full season in the Majors, Polanco believes he is ready to take a big leap forward. If he does, the Pirates' "Dream Outfield" will become a welcome reality for years to come.

"This year is big for me. I want to do what I can do," Polanco said. "This is the year that I want to play how I'd been playing in the Minor Leagues, like a star player."