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Alternate Universe Andrew McCutchen

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(photo by Rustin Dwyer)

As you know, Andrew McCutchen is the best prospect in the Pirates system, and one of the better young outfield prospects around. He's a notch behind the Bruce/Rasmus/Maybin trio, due to having less power, but with his youth and athleticism he's still a very strong prospect. The Pirates have pushed him quickly: he spent most of last year in Double-A at age 20, and if he had been in A-ball his numbers would certainly have been more impressive than the .258/.327/.383 mark he put up at Altoona.

McCutchen was part of the tremendous high school outfielder class of 2005. What if he had gone to college instead of turning pro? McCutchen had a University of Florida scholarship. How would he be regarded entering the 2008 draft class?

Let's have some fun and play Alternate Universe Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen hit .291/.356/.446 in the Sally League in 2006, about +11 percent better OPS than the league. Last year his OPS was -4 percent in the Eastern League. How does that translate into a college context? Translating minor league stats backward to a college context involves huge amounts of guesswork given the variance in competition and the metal bat. But let's throw some numbers out there. Don't take this super-seriously, this exercise is meant for fun more than anything.

There was a 15 point swing in OPS for McCutchen between 2006 and 2007. The Eastern League is two notches higher on the competition chain than the Sally League. Think of it like this: Eastern League/Carolina League/Sally League/New York-Penn League/Rookie Ball/NCAA Div 1. Let's say you gain (or lose) +7 OPS points from league to league. NOTE: This is just a back-of-the-envelope calculation, PLEASE don't take this too seriously.

Assuming that, McCutchen's 2006 +11 OPS in the Sally League "would" have been +18 if he had been in the NY-P, +25 if he had been in rookie ball, and +32 if he had been at the University of Florida.

In 2006, the baseline OPS of all games played by the University of Florida was approximately .744. +32 percent would be an OPS of .982. Given McCutchen's historical OBP/SLG split (46%/54%), this would be about a .452 OBP and a .530 SLG. In his career, 80% of McCutchens' OBP has come from his batting average. So this gives us a guestimated line of .360/.452/.530 for the University of Florida as a freshman in 2006.

Running the same calculations for 2007 (Florida approximate OPS of .825) yields a line of .401/.501/.588. This assumes that his "true level" of performance did not change between 2006 and 2007, and that the weaker numbers in '07 were because of the stronger competition, not that he had a weaker year. For the sake of argument, let's assume that he really DID have a weaker year, that he didn't play as well and it wasn't just because of the Eastern League. Let's arbitrarily pull a number out of thin air and reduce his projected 2007 college production by 20% across the board. This still gives a .321/.401/.470 line for McCutchen's sophomore year.

Then you have to consider the speed factor. McCutchen swiped 23 bases in 31 attempts in 2006, and 21 bases in 25 attempts in 2007. I can't imagine these numbers would have been any WORSE in a college context, On the other hand, the college season isn't nearly as long, the Gators playing 56 games in '06 and 59 games last year. But on the third hand, he would have been on base a lot more in college. Let's just arbitrarily say that McCutchen about 30 bases each year with a strong success ratio.

So what we'd have here heading into the 2008 draft is a guy with a .360/.452/.530 line in a terrific freshman year, a weaker but still OK sophomore season at .321/.401/.470, with strong speed production and raves from scouts about his tools, though with perhaps a hint of doubt about how much of that SLG would translate to wood from metal. Where would a guy like that rank in the 2008 draft?

He'd be rated pretty damn highly. Entering the season, the highest-ranked outfielder on Baseball America's Top 100 College Prospects list was Dennis Raben of Miami at Number 12. McCutchen has a broader base of tools and more athleticism than Raben, so I'd imagine that McCutchen would be the highest-ranked college outfielder in the 2008 draft, assuming he performed in college something like we have projected here. Obviously much would depend on how he would perform in the spring, but at least entering the college season he'd be considered a virtually certain first round pick.

The bottom line is this: some people are a bit down on McCutchen, worried that he didn't show quite what they expected him to show last year. But what this exercise does is remind us of just how young he is, and how important it is to keep that in perspective. If he'd gone to college, McCutchen would be considered one of the leading lights in the 2008 draft.