The Pittsburgh Pirates made some aggressive promotions this year, with the most notable being 18-year-old Cole Tucker being sent to full-season ball. They believed he could handle the jump due to his maturity and skill level. I didn’t think he would make the move for multiple reasons, even though the Pirates sent both Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows to West Virginia last year. Meadows was hurt at the beginning of the year, but he was scheduled to start the year there. The reasons I didn’t think Tucker would make the jump is because he was young for his draft class, he didn’t dominate in the GCL, he didn’t see the late-season promotion that guys going to West Virginia usually get and he spent time this off-season recovering from thumb surgery.
I was talking to Tim Williams about the move when it was announced and he basically said, what’s the harm? If he is over-matched, send him to Morgantown when their season starts. Just a footnote for future reference, due to the two teams being called West Virginia, we go with Morgantown for the short-season team in the New York-Penn League because that’s where the stadium is located. Makes it easier to tell the two apart when writing. Back to what Tim said, and it makes sense. You could test him at a high level, let him get experience, and if it’s too much, back off mid-season and let him face lesser competition when the short-season leagues start in June.
Taking that even a step further, what is the harm if he struggles all season? As long as it isn’t affecting him mentally, then the physical challenge against the better competition all season could be good for him. On Tuesday night, I saw an example of a player that struggled after an aggressive promotion, finally look like the player his team thought he could be one day.
The Phillies sent 17-year-old Carlos Tocci to Low-A Lakewood in 2013, put him out in center field and let him play everyday. His experience prior to that consisted of 38 games in the GCL and he was listed at 6’2″, 160 pounds. Basically, he was a rail thin teenager, with very little experience, playing in a league where the average player is 3-4 years older. I probably saw Tocci play 20+ games that year and pitchers could knock the bat out of his hands. He had 17 doubles, no triples or homers and almost everything he hit was a bloop or a grounder. Defensively, he was outstanding and ready for the level, but the hitting was awful, as he finished with a .209/.261/.249 slash line.
Tocci returned to Lakewood in 2014 and was still among the youngest players in the league, and about the same age as Tucker is now. He hit .242/.297/.324 in 538 plate appearances. They ran him out to center field everyday again and he showed an improvement at the plate. Those aren’t great numbers, but considering his age, they are perfectly acceptable for the level and his strong suit is above-average defense in center field. That is comparable to Reese McGuire, who hit .262/.307/.334 last year in the same league and played above-average defense at a key position.
Fast forward to Tuesday night and Tocci came into the game with a .966 OPS in his first five games. I heard better reports on him, but five games is the ultimate small sample size, so I was interested to actually see him play. This is someone I saw play 45-50 times already and never saw anything from the bat that looked like he could be a future starter in the big leagues.
Tocci looked like he filled out a little, which is the first good sign. He then came up with the bases loaded in the fourth inning and did something I never saw in 2013/14, he hit the ball with authority, clearing the left field wall easily in a ballpark that isn’t built for homers. In his next at-bat, Tocci laced a double down the left field line, again hitting the ball much different than he did last year.
It now looks like struggling for two years in the South Atlantic League hasn’t done anything to hurt Tocci’s development. If Tucker doesn’t have a strong season with West Virginia this year, it doesn’t mean the Pirates were wrong to promote him too soon, it likely just means that he is a young player going through growing pains against older, more experienced competition. If he has to return to the level next year, that’s not the worst thing and if he puts up strong numbers, you could be talking about a top 100 prospect in the game.
Pirates Game Graph
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates lost 2-0 on Tuesday night to the Detroit Tigers. They play game three of the series tonight, with Francisco Liriano making his second start of the season. This start was pushed back three days while Liriano was on the paternity list. He gave up two runs over seven innings, with seven strikeouts on Opening Day against the Reds.
In the minors, Adrian Sampson gets his second start, hoping to bounce back from a rough first outing. He allowed three runs on seven hits and three walks in five innings last Friday. Angel Sanchez threw six shutout innings in his season debut for Altoona. He will get the start one day late after last night’s game was postponed. The oft-injured Jake Burnette tries to build on his first outing, which saw him allow one run and strike out five batters in three innings. West Virginia plays two today. Both Altoona and West Virginia have early morning start times. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.
MLB: Pittsburgh (3-5) vs Tigers (7-1) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Francisco Liriano (2.57 ERA, 3:7 BB/SO, 7.0 IP)
From Monday in Indianapolis, Jaff Decker looks pretty good for someone on a rehab assignment when he makes this diving catch. In four games, he is 3-for-13 at the plate, with two singles and a double.
4/14: Jose Regalado added to West Virginia Power. Erik Forgione assigned to West Virginia Black Bears
4/14: Collin Balester assigned to Altoona.
4/13: Francisco Liriano reinstated from paternity list. Casey Sadler optioned to Indianapolis.
4/12: Chris Stewart assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
4/12: Justin Topa placed on Bradenton disabled list. Matt Benedict assigned to Bradenton from Altoona
4/11: Pedro Florimon clears waivers. Assigned to Indianapolis.
4/11: Stolmy Pimentel claimed off waiver by the Texas Rangers.
4/9: Chris Stewart assigned to Altoona on rehab. Jaff Decker assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
4/7: Pirates release Matt Nevarez, Andrew Dennis and Dwight Childs.
4/5: Pirates recall Rob Scahill, designate Stolmy Pimentel and Pedro Florimon for assignment.
4/5: Pirates place Charlie Morton, Brandon Cumpton, Jaff Decker, Justin Sellers and Chris Stewart on the disabled list.
4/2: Pirates acquire first baseman Hunter Morris from the Milwaukee Brewers for a player to be named later.
4/1: Pirates release Danny Collins, Joan Montero, Will Kendall, Remy De Aza, Raul Fortunato, Taylor Lewis, Colter Moore and Cory Rhodes.
This Date in Pirates History
There have been five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and one small trade of note. Among the players born on this date, Ed Abbaticchio, infielder for the 1907-10 Pirates. He was a favorite of Pirates’ owner Barney Dreyfuss while with the Boston Doves(Braves) and Dreyfuss was willing to pay a large price to acquire him. The Pirates gave up center fielder Ginger Beaumont and second baseman Claude Ritchey, stars from the 1901-03 teams that won three straight NL pennants. They also included pitcher Patsy Flaherty in the December, 1906 trade.
Abbaticchio didn’t put up great stats for the Pirates and he was a seldom-used bench player for the 1909 World Series champs, but he is well-known for one reason. He was the first Italian star in baseball, and possibly the first Italian player in the league, making his debut 26 years after the first MLB game. We say possibly, because there is one player from the 1880’s named Lewis “Buttercup” Dickerson, who has very questionable Italian heritage, though he is in the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame.
In four years with the Pirates, Abbaticchio hit .253/.348/.318 and spent most of his time at second base, losing the job in 1909 to rookie Dots Miller.
Other players born on this date include Jeromy Burnitz, Mike Diaz, Bill Pierro and King Cole.
On this date in 2009, the Pirates traded two minor league pitchers, Eric Krebs and Harvey Garcia, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Delwyn Young.