How Cole Tucker is Adjusting to His Aggressive Push, On and Off the Field

The Pittsburgh Pirates made an aggressive move at the start of the season when they sent Cole Tucker to West Virginia. The 2014 first round pick is one of the youngest players in the league, turning 19 in exactly one month. The Pirates drafted him out of high school last year, when he was one of the youngest players in the draft. Despite the age, they felt that the maturity was there for him to handle such an aggressive jump. In fact, despite the age, West Virginia manager Brian Esposito feels that Tucker is one of the leaders of the club.

“He’s the youngest guy on our team, and he’s probably one of the guys that leads this ball club,” Esposito said. “Which is tremendous for an 18-year-old kid to go out there and be one of the leaders on this team.”

The Power have a very college-heavy team, with fellow 2014 picks like Connor Joe, Jordan Luplow, Taylor Gushue, Michael Suchy, Chase Simpson, Tyler Filliben, and Jerrick Suiter on the team. That college presence has helped Tucker adjusting to adult life. He’s currently living with Gushue, Luplow, and Joe, who are helping him adjust to life away from home.

“It’s weird looking at the roster and seeing guys who are born in 1989, and people that are older than my older brother,” Tucker said in a comment that made this author feel very old, considering that 1989 was the year my younger brother was born. “I feel like I belong and I feel like I can handle it so far. I feel like I’m doing a good job.”

Aside from the on-field challenges of being one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, Tucker has to adjust to new off-field experiences like having your own place, paying rent, and having a job to go to each day. He had some of that last year after the draft, but this is a bit different.

“Last year, being in the GCL, you’re at Pirate City, so it’s like having mom and dad watch you everyday,” Tucker said. “Being here, away at an affiliate is really different. You’ve got to be at the ballpark everyday. It’s not just you roll out of bed, and go to the locker room five seconds away like it is at Pirate City. You’ve got to be a full-on adult here.”

On the field, Tucker has struggled offensively, putting up a .262/.286/.305 line in 164 at-bats. That probably shouldn’t be a big surprise for a guy one year removed from high school, playing in a college-heavy league. The same thing happened last year with Reese McGuire, who had a .262/.307/.334 line in West Virginia. Despite the struggles, Tucker is showing some maturity by separating his offense and defense, and not letting one side of the game impact the other.

“Regardless of his struggles at the plate, regardless of his struggles defensively, one will never carry over to the other,” Esposito said. “He has shown a tremendous amount of maturity being able to separate his offense and his defense. He won’t take his at-bats to defense, and he won’t take his defense to the plate. He separates them well. He goes out and he competes.”

This is a characteristic that is hard to master. Some players in the upper levels of the minors, who have been in pro ball for years, still struggle with this. It’s this characteristic that led to the Pirates giving Tucker this aggressive push, knowing that he’d be able to handle the jump from a mental standpoint.

Defensively, Tucker has looked good, showing the range needed to stick at shortstop, along with a strong enough arm to make the throw, despite a unique throwing motion where he almost tucks his arm in a bit from a high sidearm delivery. He’s very athletic, and has a chance to stick at the position, even if he adds some muscle to his frame in the future.

There is also the physical aspect that needs to be considered. A high school season is much shorter than a college season. Tucker started in Spring Training at the end of February, and has been going ever since, working out every day and getting the majority of the playing time at shortstop. That will continue through the end of the season in early September, and possibly a bit longer if West Virginia makes the playoffs. After that, there is the Fall Instructional League, meaning Tucker will have played baseball for about eight months straight — a massive jump from his time in high school.

“I know it’s a long year ahead,” Tucker said, “but I feel I’m really taking care of myself working with the trainer and the strength staff to do what I need to do to go out and play nine innings every night.”

As for the offensive struggles, he has been putting in work with West Virginia Hitting Coach Keoni De Renne, along with Minor League Hitting Coordinator Larry Sutton on his timing and rhythm at the plate to make sure that his swing is on time.

“[We’re] getting him to the right position so that he has more success with his timing and rhythm,” De Renne said. “Once all that happens, it’s going to be a lot easier for him to be that much more consistent.”

But Esposito welcomes the struggles for now, to continue pushing Tucker.

“His work ethic is going to allow him to work out of any struggles he may or may not have,” Esposito said. “And that’s what we want. I want him to struggle. I want him to face some adversity, some challenges, that’s going to push him when he’s here.”

  • You know though, Charleston would not be a bad place for a young player to adjust. Its big enough to get a bit of a city experience, but not overwhelmingly big where you have to deal with lots of traffic, crime etc. I also know a lot of the
    fans work to create a “home” like environment for the
    players.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 3, 2015 9:31 pm

    Sounds like a great kid, mature beyond his years.

    I am still concerned about his bat – as he advances through the system.

    As far as sticking at SS, I thought that was foregone conclusion and one of the reasons the Pirates drafted him so high – that he had the range and arm to definitely stay at SS. This article states “that he should” be able to stick at SS, as if there is some doubt. That is a little concerning.

    • The doubt comes from the fact that he’s 6′-4″ with a ton of room in his frame to fill out; good news for the offense, but there just aren’t many SS with that size. Sort of the defensive version of assuming a 5′-11″ pitcher will end up in the bullpen.

      • Speaking of height for pitchers is this why Phil Bickford is slotted so low in the mock drafts? Plus I’ve seen him listed at 6 foot and also 6 foot 4. How tall is this dude?

  • Great kid with an even better attitude. My wife and I met him while eating at Pier22 during spring training. I don’t think I have ever rooted more for a player to have success. Would love to see him in Pittsburgh

    • My player is Heredia [forgot his 1st. name] and am looking forward to seeing him in a Pirate uniform.

  • Did not think you had a family tim, I thought you were hatched from a baseball and raised on a diamond. : ) As for cole tucker if this kid does not become a star I will eat my hat. (After I buy one)

  • Christopher B
    June 3, 2015 4:08 pm

    Tucker seems to have a great attitude and a really good idea of what it takes to be a pro, what it takes to improve and reach his potential. Great mindset, student of the game sort of kid. I have high hopes for him.

  • Is he about 9 months younger than Hanson in Low A? Did I do that math right? “You’ve got to be a full-on adult here.” I almost choked on my coffee when I read that because I was a about Tucker’s age when I entered my freshman year and there might’ve been one kid out of 20 on my floor that was somewhat mature. I get that these kids sign for 6 and 7 figures but going pro immediately sounds like no joke. I wonder if that’s why some kids wanna go to college for a couple years first.

    • I feel like most people dont appreciate how difficult that situation would be. You are 19, living on your own for the first time, playing a sport for a living and getting paid pretty crap money (after any signing bonus you may have gotten). Talk about a transition from high school to that.

      • Agreed.

      • John Dreker
        June 3, 2015 4:09 pm

        You could also think of it as having more money than they ever had and being in college without the classes. Most HS kids that sign get a decent bonus and while everyone talks about the low pay, many live with families and their food is paid for, either through their per diem or the buffet style “meals” they get afterwards, so they don’t need a huge paycheck, they aren’t going out of pocket unless it’s by choice(choosing to spend a lot). Many players see their parents during the season and they’re back home from the end of October through early March. While the baseball season is grueling, it’s better than many of the alternatives.

        • Am I understanding that right? Lots of HS draftees live with families in the minors?

          • He means host families. There are a few options for minor league players. One is that they live with someone who has made their home available to a player during the season. Another is that you get 3 or 4 (or 5 or 6 sometimes) players who rent an apartment together.

            • That’s awesome. I had no idea there were host families. I just figured 3 or 4 guys would get a place.

        • Amen brother.

  • Sounds promising.

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