BRADENTON, Fl. — Cole Tucker, the first round pick for the Pirates in 2014, went down at the end of the 2015 season with labrum surgery. The procedure was originally supposed to keep Tucker out for 10-12 months, which would have put him returning to action late in the 2016 minor league season. However, Tucker seems to be well on the early side of things, and might even return much sooner than the original timeline.
“It’s going to be sooner, rather than later,” Tucker said of his return. “I feel really good. Everything has been smooth so far with the rehab process, and everyone has been great — the training staff and the front office staff, my rehab team back home. It’s been going way better than I thought it was going to be.”
Tucker arrived at Pirate City about a week ago, and has been throwing, hitting, and taking ground balls as he finishes up his rehab process. He’s been throwing at home since January 1st. At the moment, the throwing is limited to his throwing program, which just reached 120 feet for the first time today. He hasn’t been throwing to first base yet during his fielding drills, and isn’t sure when that will be.
“Throwing program has been going great,” Tucker said. “Just playing catch and stuff has been nice and easy. Just continuing with that, and then when they say I can get on the field and throw across the diamond, I’ll be ready.”
Tucker took batting practice today after fielding practice. He took some soft tosses from the right side, and looked to be further along from that side. His work from the left side is currently limited to hitting off a tee and underhand tosses.
“I’ve got to be a little more careful left-handed, per protocol from the doctor and training staff,” Tucker said. “It feels really good. I don’t feel a difference. I feel pretty normal, which is encouraging being February and they told me I was going to be out until September. I’m feeling really good.”
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One big question about Tucker is whether his injury would force a move off the shortstop position. Labrum surgery always has a question mark in regards to arm strength. For now, Tucker is being prepped for shortstop, with no position change in sight.
“No one said anything about me moving,” Tucker said about the shortstop position. “I don’t really plan on it. I feel like I can handle it. My arm feels just like it did before surgery. I don’t see a move to be necessary. Obviously, I’ll play wherever they tell me, but right now I feel like I’m a shortstop.”
There’s currently no word on when Tucker will get into games during Spring Training, or an exact date for his timeline. The current progression would make it seem like he will return much earlier than the previous timeline. He said that everything feels good with his shoulder, and he feels “almost normal”.
“I would assume it would be sooner than [August]. I feel great,” Tucker said. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m 19 and I heal really fast. I know it’s super cliché to say a setback can be a good thing, but this whole process has been great. I’ve gotten stronger, been able to work on some things I wouldn’t have been able to before. It’s been great. It’s been a really good experience. Having surgery obviously sucks. Going through rehab for six, seven months obviously sucks. But once I get back to playing, it’s going to be really fun. I can’t wait.”