Projecting Pittsburgh Pirates’ Infielder Cole Tucker’s Floor and Ceiling


The Pittsburgh Pirates have a very talented, and young middle infielder in Cole Tucker. But how will he do whenever the 2020 season starts?

As I did with Mitch Keller, I want to look at some of the Pittsburgh Pirates young players,and project the peak of their performance, or their ceiling, as well as the potential worst but effective level of play, or their floor. Through this, we will compare the player with what you could expect at the MLB level, as well as what that could mean for their future.

Today, we will look at young shortstop Cole Tucker. The switch hitter was the Bucs’ first round pick back in the 2014 draft. He quickly established the kind of player he was: light hitting, but extremely efficient with the leather and a quick middle infielder.

In 2019, Tucker hit .261/.346/.413 with eight home runs and 11 stolen bags in 353 plate appearances with Triple-A Indianapolis. A 95 wRC+ might not be too impressive, but the season came with many peaks and valleys. For example, Tucker did very good in April (.994 OPS) and June (.825 OPS), but faltered in the final two months of the minor league season with a .638 OPS in July and .701 OPS in August. But, maybe some of that can be chalked up to being optioned to Indianapolis twice and recalled to the MLB level three separate times.

Regardless, Tucker still posted what should be consider strong numbers for a player of his type. Tucker walked 10.8% of the time, and struck out only 20.7% of the time. This resulted in a solid .52 walk to strikeout ratio. That still would have ranked in the top 50 of all MLB batters in 2019. His .334 wOBA at Triple-A was also better than the MLB average of .320. Having that good of plate discipline is helpful when you have the speed Tucker does. Last season, he was in the 90th percentile of sprint speed with a 28.8 feet per second speed. That ranked 70th in the MLB, and tied him with National League MVP Cody Bellinger.

The 23-year-old’s Major League numbers might not seem too impressive. He only had a .626 OPS and 64 OPS+ across his first 159 plate appearances. But when he was recalled to the MLB during September, Tucker seemed to get fairly in tune with what MLB pitchers were throwing. In his final 36 plate appearances of 2019, the rookie had nine hits, including two doubles, three triples, two walks, and just six strikeouts.

Cole Tucker’s defense is where his most value can be found. In the limited time he was in the Majors last year, Tucker was responsible for +2 defensive runs saved, a 0.9 UZR, 0.3 range runs, and an outstanding 4.6 UZR/150. In 2018, MLB Pipeline gave Tucker a 55 grade for both his fielding and arm. Currently, FanGraphs has graded his defense as a 50 with a future of a 55, and arm at 70.

So what could you expect from Tucker given a full year of production? Well, his ceiling could be similar to a 2019 Asdrubal Cabrera with less power and far better defense. In 514 plate appearances with the Nationals and Rangers, the former Indians All-Star hit .260/.344/.441 with 18 home runs and finished with a 98 wRC+.

Cabrera posted similar overall walk and strikeout numbers to Tucker’s 2019 Triple-A numbers with a 11.1% walk rate and 20% strikeout rate. Tucker likely won’t hit for that much power as his highest slugging percentage across at least 300 plate appearances in one season is .413 from last year. Expect similar BA/OBP numbers, but a slugging that hovers right around .400-.410 and about half the home runs. His ceiling with defense is comparable to Colorado Rockies’ infielder Trevor Story. The slugger is one of the premier defenders at the position. In 2019, Story had a +14 DRS, an 8.6 UZR, 10.3 UZR/150, and 3.9 range runs above average.

Tucker’s offensive ceiling could be very low. His defensive ceiling and floor likely will not be far apart, so it’s going to be his offensive capability that will decide what type of player he will be. At the worst, he could be very similar to 2019 Elvis Andrus, but with better walk and strikeout numbers. Last year, Andrus hit .275/.313/.393 with 12 home runs and 30 stolen bases. He was only given a 76 wRC+ for his efforts. At the very worst, Tucker is a .230/.325/.390 hitter, which overall is very similar to Andrus’ 2019 numbers. While I’m not saying Cole Tucker will be anything close to him, but remember, legendary glove-first shortstop Ozzie Smith batted .234/.303/.284 with a 69 wRC+ through the first five years of his career, and look how he turned out.

Next. Interview With OF Prospect Randy Romero. dark

If/when the 2020 season does start, Cole Tucker should be the team’s starting shortstop. Carrying an on base percentage around the .340 mark, while also having the speed he has makes it easy to start off the game with an almost guaranteed runner in scoring position. With his speed, any gap shot would be an easy run, and most other hits would end with him at third base. Plus with his defensive chops, Tucker could give guys like Story, Javier Baez, and Nick Ahmed a run for their money during award season for the Gold Glove.