A little over a year ago, we created a list of the top 20 prospects within the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Some of lived up to expectations while others have not. One name that continues to intrigue, however, is Cole Tucker.
The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Cole Tucker in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft. The rookie made his Big League debut back in April, but has also spent time in Triple-A Indianapolis. Unfortunately, he hasn’t come onto the scene as hot as other rookie shortstops Fernando Tatis Jr. and Bo Bichette, or even fellow Bucco Kevin Newman. But that is ok. The 23-year-old still has plenty of time in this current rebuild to develop into the player Pittsburgh needs him to be.
We’ve learned a lot about Tucker this year. We learned more about the relationship he has with Cody Bellinger, dating back to their youth playing days in Scottsdale, Arizona. We learned he loves making an immediate impact, hitting his first home run that served as a 2-run game winning shot against the Giants in April.
One thing we already knew, however, was his speed. Baseball savant’s statcast leader board for sprint speed has Tucker moving on the basepaths at 28.7 feet per second. This is 65th in all of Major League Baseball, third on the Pirates, and above the league average 27 feet per second. Newman, currently seeing the majority of starts at shortstop for Pittsburgh, checks in at 28.5 feet per second. The Buccos have average overall team speed, coming in at 27.2 feet per second as a squad. However, some of that quickness resides with guys who will not be part of this rebuild. You can never have enough base running threats, in my opinion, so Tucker could find a niche on this team as high level pinch runner at the very least.
Tucker’s defensive ability is just fine as well. In 121 chances this season, he has only committed one error, good for a .992 fielding percentage. His speed and athleticism give him excellent range in the infield, valuable to any MLB club. Pittsburgh has been the fifth worst defensive team through the 2019 campaign and will need to improve that moving forward.
The Arizona native is also a switch hitter, something every team loves to feature in their lineup. His splits this season suggest he hits right-handed pitching a tad better, although his 2018 season in Double-A Altoona saw him hit .311 against lefties and just .246 facing righties. Time will tell which side of the dish he favors, if he even does prefer one. Regardless, having the ability to avoid same-handed match ups can certainly help with late game small ball situations and allows lineup flexibility.
Cole has also shown ability in clutch situations as well. While he’s hitting just .250 with two outs and runners in scoring position, his average jumps to .326 in the 7th through 9th innings.
Jam At Shortstop
Tucker was demoted back to Indianapolis in June before eventually making his way back to the big league level. Tucker stayed positive throughout the process though, and that attitude will serve him well for the coming years. Kevin Newman has emerged as the shortstop of the future for Pittsburgh, and deservedly so. Moving Tucker defensively could present issues, however, as he has only played six total games outside of shortstop (all at second base) since being drafted.
The path to earning consistent MLB playing time for Tucker looks tough. The Pirates have a solid, young outfield core with Bryan Reynolds, Kevin Kramer, and Jose Osuna. Ideally, the organization would like to keep Newman and Adam Frazier at short and second respectively. Colin Moran also appears to have third base locked down. So, where exactly does Tucker fit?
In regards to the foreseeable future, it looks like Cole will have to settle as a utility infielder and baserunning threat off the bench. Pittsburgh has a plethora of young talent that has already performed above the level of Tucker. The key for him is to continue to find ways to make strides in his game while keeping himself up at the MLB level. Many young players around the league struggle in the transition from Triple-A because they do not see the same consistent amount of at-bats initially.
The long-haired, joyous personality that is Cole Tucker needs to prove himself more at the plate before Pittsburgh commits to him long-term. Cole will never lose faith in himself as a player, and neither should Pirate fans. Barring some crazy positional shifting, things will remain the same in 2020 for the Pirates infield. As long as Tucker continues to bring energy off the bench, whether as a pinch hitter or pinch runner, he will be just fine moving forward. Otherwise, another stint in Indianapolis could be in order.