YOUNGSTOWN - Thousands of words were spoken on the Pittsburgh Pirates annual Winter Caravan, which made its final rounds on Thursday, but there were eight in particular that should be of considerable interest to the team and its fans.
They were the ones that Andrew McCutchen said the other day, when he announced: "I'm in the best shape of my life."
Granted, at 23, McCutchen doesn't have a large body of work at this point. Still, if the Pirates are to get where they want to go this season, then chances are the legs of McCutchen will have to take them there.
And to hear McCutchen tell it, they've never been as strong or as quick as they are now, which bodes well for a team that may have to play "small ball" in order be successful this season.
"I know my legs definitely have gotten a lot stronger because of the things that I got done in the off-season," McCutchen said. "They're what carry you throughout the whole season. If your legs give out, you have nothing else. You need them."
Anyone who didn't believe professional baseball is an around-the-clock commitment would have become tired just watching McCutchen train in Lakeland, Fla., in recent months.
From Monday through Thursday, McCutchen spent much of his time with New York Mets prospect Will Cherry and a physical therapist. He worked out an average of five hours per day, the emphasis on abdominal exercises and "stuff that really gets your heart going," he said.
The daily routine was broken down into three segments that consisted of hitting, running and throwing drills, lifting weights and conditioning exercises. He also did strength exercises on Fridays before he recharged on the weekends.
Already McCutchen said he feels the results, especial in his lower body.
"I know what I've done will help me in the long run," he said.
The emergence of McCutchen was one of the most positive developments for the Pirates last season. He finished with a .286 batting average, 12 home runs, 54 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 108 games.
Despite his slight build, the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder showed no sign of a significant drop-off in the second half, when he hit .283 and 10 homers in 72 games. Nonetheless, in the final weeks of the season, manager John Russell sensed McCutchen had lost some pep in his step at times.
"When he came in the clubhouse, you could see the difference sometimes," Russell said. "He played every day and had only one or two days off, but he battled through it. He prepared very well this winter."
McCutchen has yet to endure the rigors of a 162-game schedule, a fact that prompted him to take his off-season regimen to another level.
"One of the things that he has learned is that it's a long season," Russell said. "He learned a lot about himself in the last month of the season. It's a grueling schedule, and physically, he's better prepared for it. Like we tell him, pretty soon he'll have to play past September."
To judge by the commitment that McCutchen made in recent months, failure is not an option for him.
"It's good to be a part of this," McCutchen said. "It also will be good when this team turns it around and (I can) say that I was part of it. I know that, sooner than later, things will turn around for us. We have to believe that we can do it and perform. We have the team to do it. We have the attitude to do it. We just have to put it together now."
Pitchers Anthony Claggett and Steven Jackson cleared waivers and were sent to Class AAA Indianapolis on Thursday. They will attend spring training as two of the 22 non-roster invitees.
The Pirates' Winter Caravan made its final two stops Thursday. One group of team representatives appeared at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, and another was at The Fez Banquet and Wedding Center in Hopewell, Pa.
The annual event is set for this weekend at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, 1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd., in Pittsburgh. Today's session is from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday's events are from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the PirateFest draws to a close with events from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Ticket information and scheduled autograph appearances by current and former Pirates can be found at pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com/pit/fan-forum/piratefest.jsp.