Perception and expectations are funny things.
Look at the batting line for these two players between the ages of 22-24
The triple slash lines and OPS+ are very similar, with a slight edge in OPS+ to the player on top.
Some more info on these guys
The player on top has better plate discipline and might run a little better, but the player on bottom has more HR power. However the net result is that these two players are pretty close, and obviously are already good hitters at a very young age.
Note that this 3 season sample does NOT include Justin's age 21 season in 2009 when he hit .300 with 26 HR and made the all star team. It includes his two "disappointing seasons" of 2010 & 2012. I would have compared McCutchen's age 21 season, except he was in AAA hitting .283 with 9 HR. So kinda hard to do. ;)
Was anyone calling McCutchen a huge disappointment heading into 2012 ? Was Pittsburgh "Listening to offers" on him ? He is signed to a better contract though, that does not get expensive for another several years. This is because he was not called up too soon, and his service clock was not running too early.
Justin was called up to the majors too soon. He needed more time to refine his game in the minors. I understand the circumstances of his callup in 2007. I'm not second guessing that. The Quentin injury forced their hand. They didn't have a better option. But he really needed another year in the minors. Because he was called up so early, it feels like he has been around forever. I remember reading a Bickley article in mid 2011 where he said Justin was "FINALLY" living up to his potential. That was pretty funny, and ironic, considering it was the middle of his age 23 season. Finally indeed.
Is Justin the best player in the game ? No......unfortunately the early comparisons to some of the all time greats have not come to be at this stage in his career. He's not even the best 24 year old in the game right now. But he is a good ballplayer, and worth his contract even if he doesn't give us more than 120-125 OPS+ over the next 3 seasons.