Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 Top Prospects: #15 – Cole Tucker

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To recap the countdown so far:

20. Willy Garcia, RF
19. Clay Holmes, RHP
18. Mitch Keller, RHP
17. Max Moroff, 2B
16. Chad Kuhl, RHP

We continue the countdown with the number 15 prospect, Cole Tucker.

15. Cole Tucker, SS

The Pirates appeared to be higher on Cole Tucker than most when they took him in the first round in 2014. After the draft, it was revealed that other teams were in on him as well, and that he probably wouldn’t have been available if they would have waited until their second pick in the draft. They continued the aggressive approach with him, sending him to full-season West Virginia in his age 18 season, making him one of the youngest players at the level.

Tucker started slow, which could be expected from the aggressive placement. There were times where it appeared that he might have been pushing too much, and other times where it looked like the hitting came easy for him. He had a .608 OPS through the month of May, but saw much better results the next two months of the season. From the start of June until the end of July, Tucker had a .797 OPS.

Unfortunately, Tucker’s season ended there, as he went down with labrum surgery in early August. The injury ended his season, and will put him out for 10-12 months, potentially putting him out for all of the 2016 season, and at best seeing a late summer return. There would also be concerns about his arm strength moving forward, and his ability to stick on the left side of the bag. The Pirates have added a lot of shortstop depth the last few years, so this is less of a concern than it might have been when Tucker was drafted.

Tucker has a lot of speed and range, so the arm strength would be the only thing holding him back if that becomes an issue. He doesn’t project as a big power hitter in the future, but has a projectable frame and the ability to hit line drives to the gaps. He commands the strike zone well, and has a good feel for hitting, with the left side producing better results.

Fortunately, Tucker is young enough that, even if he does miss an entire year, he will still be age appropriate and on pace as a top prospect. He has the offensive upside that he’d still be a top prospect at second base, but if he can play shortstop, that would be a huge boost to his value. It’s too early to tell right now where his career will go after the injury, and that should become more clear during his rehab in 2016.

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  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    January 18, 2016 5:46 pm

    Bad break…because he would not have been drafted until the middle rounds (at best) if he projected as a second baseman. I don’t think he’ll ever hit enough to be at third.

  • How is he doing on the rehab timetable?

    • Due to the timing, I’d say the earliest you see him is with the GCL team when they start in late June, probably as a DH at first. His return could be as late as August and he may see more playing time in the Fall Instructional League than he does in regular season games. We will get a better idea after minor league camp starts in March

  • Great, well grounded kid. I am really pulling for him.

  • rodcobrakeith
    January 18, 2016 1:20 pm

    I am enjoying the fact that a recent Number 1 pick is listed as low as #15 in the prospect pool. 10-20 years ago he’d be in the Top 5 if not Top 3; even with the injury. (Chad Hermansen, JJ Davis)

    • DrStrangeglove
      January 18, 2016 8:03 pm

      Ditto. I was surprised to see him this low, even with the questions about his future at short, but then I started going through our prospects, and I could see 13 of the 14 ahead of him. Not sure who the last is. Probably a pitcher I’ve forgotten. Yeudy?

  • Labrum surgery does not make me optimistic for the future at SS, But you never know.

    • Age is on his side though… Healing wise. If I take my son ice skating I can’t sit right for 3 days! Ha

    • I knew very little so I tried to research the odds – best I could find is that most athletes reach at least 80% of pre-injury ability after about a year. I could not find much beyond that, so I guess it is a matter for each individual patient For a kid hitting and fielding as well as he was as an 18 year old, this is a major blow to him, his family, and the overall depth at that position for the Pirates. As stated though, he has youth, tools, and the work ethic to make a return to SS if it is at all possible, or to play well elsewhere.

  • I do expect Tucker to reach the Majors on merit of his hit tool alone. It’s surprisingly refined already, and I don’t expect the injury to hurt him too much there. I do hope his arm recovers nicely, though. It’d be great to have a solid defender at short who also has Tucker’s hitting ability.

    • He’s got that high-waisted, broad-shouldered build that looks like could add 30 lbs of muscle without slowing down, sort of like GP a few winters ago, which has always been the upside to me. I’m not a guy who optimistically assumes anything could happen just because a kid is young, but I really think capping his future power at fringe average as some have could end up being a miss.

      With that kind of hit tool, any power gains due to added muscle could really play up in game situations.

      • If he’s already driving the gaps in his current string-bean form, adding muscle could turn him into a really good, complete hitter. And if his arm does force him to second base, he could add muscle without hesitation, make himself a really top-shelf hitter.

        Tucker is one of the reasons I love this hit too-first strategy of drafting position players. Big raw power is awesome, but a guy who already knows how to put bat to ball is more likely to take advantage of any latent power potential than a big-muscle boom or bust guy.

      • Agree w everything here, his frame makes me optimistic as well.

      • Or don’t pass on Gatewood twice.

        • Wait, Jacob Gatewood?

          Two seasons of batting practice power and a complete inability to make contact in games *still* hasn’t deterred folks from thinking he was an actual baseball player?

          • Uh huh.

            Probably won’t stick at short, but it will be fun reading the revisionist theory down the road on him, Conor Joe, and all of these middle infielders NH drafted.

            • If you’re going to play that card, at least pick a prospect with an actual chance of turning into something.

              • Lol. 3-4 years, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to argue this one. Just remember. I said it first.

                • To be fair, you and every fan that loves dingers said it on draft day.

                  Gatewood is total boom and bust, since nearly all his skills not power are raw to poor.

                  • and WTF is Connor Joe? Or the guy whos shoulder is basically being rebuilt, from the article? That was my point.

                    I think Gatewood is going to mash at Miller Park. But like I said, we’ll see whos singing what tune in a couple years.

                    • What is Joe? How bout a player with a position and an actual chance of making contact?

                      Or is that suddenly not a requirement in baseball?

                      Are you sure you’re not talking about AJ Reed? This infatuation with Gatewood is terribly strange.

                    • You are free to continue to insinuate that the shoulder injury makes “that guy” a worse pick than Gatewood, but thats insane logic in my eyes.

                      That guy was and is a very advanced hitter who will still be able to play 2B and is super young. But yeah, DINGERZ.

  • This was a tough break for Tucker and the Pirates. Going forward, the Pirates should have above average players at every position except for shortstop. Tucker seemed to have the tools….