Presley and Bucs outfield back to the future

With Andrew McCutchen's six-year, $51.5 million extension out of the way, it was signed March 6, the Pirates can reasonably take a look far down the road at what looks like the franchise's most dynamic outfield since Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla.

McCutchen, of course, is the centerpiece, now locked up through 2018. Right fielder Jose Tabata last year also signed a six-year extension, and options could keep him in place through 2019.

Left field is the domain of second-year man Alex Presley for now, but elite prospect Starling Marte is having a breathtaking start to spring training. He will open the season by making his Class AAA debut, but he can't be far away.

"There a lot of exciting possibilities out there," general manager Neal Huntington said. "That's a good place for our organization to be."

Marte has played almost entirely center field coming through the system, as has been evident by muffing some plays in right this spring. He is exceptional defensively, but he won't unseat McCutchen in center.

That means he'll have to learn right, where the Pirates also will be able to best take advantage of his arm.

For now, anyway, it's Presley's job. He doesn't have Marte's tool set, but he showed a lively bat last season and has the speed manager Clint Hurdle likes on the basepaths.

Presley's key will be improving upon his .318 on-base percentage by showing better patience and drawing more walks.

The outfielders are expected to take the top three spots in the lineup: 1. Tabata. 2. Presley. 3. McCutchen.


--RHP Charlie Morton, recovering from offseason hip surgery, sounded discouraged about his chances to open the season with the Pirates after an erratic showing against seven batters in a side game. "I feel like every throw I make is crucial," Morton said. "Every ball I throw, I really have to make it count. That's why today was frustrating, because it kind of got away from me."

--2B Neil Walker has missed time during spring training because of lower back pain, but the matter does not seen to be serious. Expect the Pirates to continue to limit his playing time early in the spring simply to be safe.

--RHP James McDonald has a slightly new turn to his delivery, aimed at improving his changeup. The Pirates hope McDonald, who had trouble going deep into games in 2011, can blossom into a workhorse type. To do that, he will need the changeup to keep batters off his quality fastball and curve.

--3B Pedro Alvarez has gotten off to a mostly sluggish start, par for the course, but he launched an opposite-field home run over the left-field fence March 7 at McKechnie Field. Avoiding trying to pull outside pitches will be important for Alvarez.

--RHP Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, was sent to minor-league camp after spending two weeks with the big-leaguers mostly for observational purposes. "I would've liked some more innings up there," Cole said. "That would've been nice. But I got to know a lot of the guys. It was fun."

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 -- Consecutive at-bats with a hit for elite outfield prospect Starling Marte in the opening week of spring training. He'll open season in Class AAA.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Get ahead, stay ahead, put 'em away." -- Pitching coach Ray Searage's mantra on getting batters into 0-and-2 counts.

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