Surprise McCutchen sighting at Pirate City
Reigning NL MVP attends winter workouts, along with shortstop Mercer
Fans strolling among the four workout fields of Pirate City on Monday morning in Bradenton Fla., did double-takes at the sight of those familiar dreadlocks.
Surprised, amazed, impressed to see Andrew McCutchen join the drills? All of the above. You would not expect a National League Most Valuable Player to participate in early-January workouts designed to shake the rust off younger prospects.
But this is McCutchen, someone forever committed to stepping up his game regardless of the levels already reached. His Florida residence may have played a part in his his camp presence, but convenience had less to do with it than an awareness of the responsibility of being a team leader.
In fact, McCutchen and shortstop-elect Jordy Mercer are the only two projected regulars attending the Pirates' voluntary workouts. More than half of the 40-man roster, as well as 10 other invited players, are expected for what the club considers an important start-your-engines event, with manager Clint Hurdle on hand for his first look at key pieces of his 2014 club.
"Guys enjoy getting to know each other, and it's the first stage to turning the page [from the offseason] and getting everybody's baseball energies flowing again," general manager Neal Huntington says about the workouts, which have a different purpose in the middle of the club's quiet offseason.
Whereas in the past the workouts offered the first opportunity for newcomers to mix with their new teammates -- a year ago, more than a dozen offseason acquisitions joined in -- this session includes only two rostered additions: outfielder Jaff Decker and right-hander Edinson Volquez. But also among the newcomers are several signed to Minor League deals with an invitation to Spring Training, including the latest, outfielder Chris Dickerson, who signed Monday.
Fourteen of the 21 pitchers on the Bucs' roster are expected in camp, with much of the early interest focused on left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, taking his first steps on the comeback trail from the forearm injury that ended his 2013 season in early June.
Taillon, Polanco among quartet at rookie orientation
Four of the players attending voluntary workouts in Pirate City this week are only passing through Bradenton, Fla.
Outfielders Gregory Polanco and Andrew Lambo and right-handers Jameson Taillon and Brandon Cumpton have another engagement this week: rookie orientation, a joint venture of Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association conducted in Washington.
Formally called the Rookie Career Development Program (RCDP), since 1991 it has been a by-invitation event at which the top prospects from all 30 teams are schooled on what big league life will be like, on how to handle everything from media to finances.
While fans should not read too much into invitations to the four-day seminar -- they hardly come with guarantees of immediate Major League service -- the participation of Polanco and Taillon could be encouraging to those who hope to see the Bucs' top two prospects in Pittsburgh at some point this season.
Clubs have input into which players attend the RCDP, so obviously the Bucs thought it would be a good idea for Polanco and Taillon to go.
Dickerson signs on, excited about club's new culture
The Pirates' 2013 success was expected to break down the Pittsburgh aversion of players who had a choice. Through the years, numerous free agents courted by the Bucs simply wanted no part of the dark cloud that had come with two decades of losing.
It is difficult to assess the extent to which those expectations have been met, since there is no way of knowing how many free agents have been approached by clandestine general manager Neal Huntington. But at least one player will be in Bradenton, Fla., next month for the start of Spring Training because he was smitten by the team's new culture.
Outfielder Chris Dickerson -- getting a sneak peek at Pirate City during the voluntary workouts -- had some alternatives when he elected free agency after getting sent to Triple-A by the Orioles, for whom he'd had 105 at-bats last season.
He chose the Pirates because of the opportunity in right field, sure, but also because the '13 revival seduced from afar a guy who'd experienced the dour times from the visitors' side. Dickerson had broken into the Majors with the 2008-10 Reds.
"Being for three years in Cincinnati, and the culture was just so sad, knowing this team had such a great heritage and tradition, and Pittsburgh being such a great sports city," Dickerson told PiratesProspects.com before Monday morning's workout. "But to see that all turn around this year, it was almost like we were watching from afar, silently, cheering this team on. Especially for me, because I was looking at the playoff games ... and it's got to be incredible for the city of Pittsburgh and for the Pirates in general."
As for why the Pirates wanted to sign the 31-year-old to a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invitation, their own experiences had a lot to do with it. In his limited big league time, Dickerson's greatest success has come in 16 games against the Bucs -- batting .378, with nearly half of his 17 hits for extra bases.
Dickerson made his Major League debut at PNC Park, going 4-for-9 in a pair of Cincinnati wins in August 2008.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.