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Ricescapades: The One Where I Gush Over Andrew McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen has turned into a legitimate top-tier fantasy star in 2012.   (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Andrew McCutchen has turned into a legitimate top-tier fantasy star in 2012. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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For the 2012 season, I entered into an NL-only league, my first such foray into a fantasy league of that kind. While many of my draft decisions seem rather, uh, questionable (it was an auction draft), one investment is paying off beautifully. You see, before this season, I was convinced that it was only a matter of time before Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen broke out to become a fantasy beast. I would be damned if I was going to let anyone else cash in on his inevitable rise to the upper echelons of fantasy stardom.

Thus, I went in determined to throw around gobs of money like a coke addict in a Vegas strip club. I was ready to break my budget for him, essentially, which was somewhat of a reckless idea since I had already spent a huge wad of cash on Clayton Kershaw. Luckily, I didn't have to torpedo my draft budget to get him. I surprisingly ended up netting McCutchen for just $37, which seems like an insane steal in hindsight.

You don't need me to tell you that McCutchen has completely justified my faith in him. Not only has he been one of the best fantasy players in the game, but he is turning into one of the most exciting stars in all of baseball. His breakout is especially satisfying because he's become a franchise player for a moribund Pirate franchise that has needed one for two decades. If he isn't the best fantasy player right at the moment, there's a very real chance he might become that guy in the near future.

It's a testament to how hot McCutchen has been this season that we can actually ask the question of whether or not he has been the best fantasy player in the whole league this year. Coming into today, McCutchen sports a line of .325/.388/.563. He's bashed eleven home runs, has stolen eleven bases, and has knocked in 36 runs while scoring 32. He has literally been the whole offense for a surprising Pittsburgh team that has sported an almost unbelievably horrid .224/.278/.358 line so far this season. Without McCutchen's heroics, the Pirate offense would probably be a historic laughingstock.

McCutchen first arrived in the scene in 2009 and didn't waste any time making his presence known by the Allegheny. In his first season in the majors, he showed flashes of the power/speed combo that made him Baseball America's #13 prospect two years before, reaching double digits in home runs and steals. The following season, in 2010, he saw his stolen base total spike, but his power stagnated. In 2011, his power output increased, but he didn't steal as many bases and his batting average plummeted. While he had displayed short bursts of five-category stardom, he hadn't yet put it all together to become a true fantasy monster.

That time has now come. While McCutchen has been the recipient of some good fortune on balls in play (.368 BABIP, as opposed to .315 for his career), more of those hits are going for extra bases and home runs than ever before. He entered the day slugging a scorching .563, which dwarfs his career-high by more than 100 points. At the fresh-faced age of 25, this is exactly the kind of development you would expect from a player who has always projected as a future star.

If you're doing a keeper league draft next season, McCutchen is probably a guy you want to target, or at least strongly consider, as a first round pick. While other players like Matt Kemp and Joey Votto are currently ahead of him in the argument for best overall fantasy player, McCutchen is quickly entering into the conversation. Enjoy the ride and keep a close eye on the Pirates' new franchise guy as he turns into a perennial 30-30 monster in no time.