The Pittsburgh Pirates biggest hole this offseason is at the shortstop position. One of their top shortstop prospects is finally breaking out.
Entering the 2018 offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates do not have a long laundry list of things to do. Their payroll is relatively low already, but they do not have any ridiculous contracts to dump and do not have any glaring holes to fill. However, the team’s one need that could be looked into would be the shortstop position. The team has seen Jordy Mercer become a free agent, and the team did not see a whole lot from shortstop prospect Kevin Newman.
Kevin Newman was the Pittsburgh Pirates first round pick in 2015 and has had a nice minor league career. Still, he did not show much at the big league level in his extended look which started back in the middle of August. He batted .209/.247/.231 in 31 games. He did make a lot of contact, however, only striking out 23 times while walking four times. While it is a small sample size, Newman’s tools do not suggest that he will ever be a big-time impact shortstop.
With all this being said, the Pittsburgh Pirates may not have a lot of external options. The free agent market is relatively weak with the top free agents, outside of Manny Machado, being Freddy Galvis and Jordy Mercer. Meanwhile, finding a team that wants to trade an impact shortstop is going to be hard to find, especially without paying a premium.
So how can the team find an impact shortstop going forward? Well, they might have a shortstop that is close to big league ready. Cole Tucker was the team’s first-round pick back in 2014 out of a high school in Arizona. He has had some solid minor league seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization thus far. His best year came in 2017 when he batted .275, swiped 47 bases, and had 36 extra base hits in 110 games. He did this across both High-A and Double-A.
This past year was not as impressive has his 2017 campaign. He played the whole year with Double-A Altoona. Tucker played in 133 games and posted a slash line of .259/.333/.356 with 35 stolen bases and 33 extra base hits. He had a better second half than he did the first half, but it was not an overly impressive season.
However, Cole Tucker is also playing in the Arizona Fall League and is having a breakout league thus far. So far through 16 games played, Tucker is leading the Surprise Saguaros in batting average and is second on the team in stolen bases. He actually has a higher average than top overall prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He is doing this with a slash of .368/.438/.441 with four extra base hits and six stolen bases.
Now, this is relevant because the Arizona Fall League is the highest league of play for prospects. It is more competitive than Double-A or Triple-A. The Fall League has the biggest rising stars in baseball across all levels of the minors. Tucker is performing this way against some of the top pitching prospects in the league.
This is very good to see. If Tucker can continue this momentum into next season, he could find himself with the Pittsburgh Pirates as soon as June of this season. He is a little more projectable than Newman, being Tucker stands at 6’4” and is extremely athletic. So the Pittsburgh Pirates may not look to fill the shortstop position but rather wait until Cole Tucker is ready to play in Pittsburgh.