Last July, Cole Tucker went down with a thumb injury in his 11th professional game. A day after the injury happened, I talked to Tucker, who described it as a minor thumb injury, and a minor sprain to his UCL. He suffered the injury after going for a ball up the middle, slipping on the wet field, and bending his thumb back on his glove hand while trying to brace himself. Three days later, after icing the thumb and wearing a splint, he returned and played out the rest of the season.
Today, Tucker told me that he had surgery on the thumb over the off-season to repair a torn UCL in his hand. He went to the fall instructional leagues, but left the first week to have the surgery, which took place on October 1st. The injury happened in that July 7th game, and Tucker kept quiet about it during the season.
“I knew it was really hurt when it happened, but I just really wanted to play through it. I wanted to show everyone I could do it,” Tucker said.
The injury was to his left thumb, and hurt while he was swinging right-handed. It’s hard to say if that is why he struggled against left-handers in 2014. He had a .580 OPS against lefties, compared to a .785 OPS against right-handers. Tucker said he could also feel the impact throughout the year when he caught a ball funny or slid.
The recovery timeline for the injury was 9-12 weeks, and Tucker has already done his rehab work. He started hitting and taking ground balls a few weeks ago to get ready for the season. He also focused on gaining a little bit of weight and getting stronger over the off-season, with an aim to add a bit more power to his bat while also maintaining the ability to stick at shortstop.
“They wanted me to get a little bit stronger,” Tucker said. “They don’t really want me to try and bulk up and be a power hitter and be a player that I’m not. They really emphasized that I stay lean and agile. So I wanted to get a little bit stronger, add a little weight. That’s something I really put a lot of work into.”
As for the injury, Tucker said that he probably won’t take the same approach in the future of playing down his condition when he’s injured.
“I kind of tried to keep it under wraps so everyone wasn’t freaking out about it. I didn’t want to make too big of a fuss of it,” Tucker said. “It’s all good now. I grew from it. Now I know the difference from playing hurt and playing injured. I’ll be sure to know the fine line between those two now.”
Tucker is at Pirate City for a short time, and will be going back home soon for a few weeks. The Spring Training report date for minor league players is on March 1st, but Tucker plans to be in camp a few weeks before that date. He doesn’t know where he will be playing in 2015, but mentioned Morgantown and Bristol as two possibilities. West Virginia might not be totally out of the question, but considering his young age — he was 17 when drafted and is 18 this year — it seems more likely that he will be playing with one of those two short-season affiliates.
Below is video of Tucker taking batting practice today at Pirate City.