BRADENTON, Fl. – Cole Tucker took another big step with his rehab work today, taking live swings from the right side off left-handed pitchers Stephen Tarpley and Brandon Waddell. It was the first time that Tucker had taken live swings off velocity since his labrum surgery last August.

The Pirates have been more conservative with his swing from the left side, which was impacted more from the surgery, and didn’t have him taking swings from that side today. He has been swinging from the left side in batting practice, but his swings from the left side in live BP will come next week.

This is all a good sign for Tucker, who has been way ahead of schedule with his rehab. It originally looked like he would return in August, but now his return could be at some point in April.

Last year, Tucker played in West Virginia, and had some solid offensive numbers in his final two months, with a combined .797 OPS in June and July. He looked like he would warrant a promotion to Bradenton this year before the injury. However, that could be difficult with Kevin Newman also moving to Bradenton this year, and the Pirates having no plans to move Tucker off of shortstop.

Pirates’ Director of Minor League Operations Larry Broadway said that Tucker won’t be ready by Opening Day, and that they’re currently seeing how he responds to his rehab, while focusing on treating the body. There’s no official word yet on how they’ll handle the two shortstops, but it doesn’t sound like they’ll be aggressive with him out of the gate.

“We’ll take a look at it as it goes,” Broadway said. “We’re not in any rush with Tuck.”

The same goes for Newman. He will start off in Bradenton, which is a usual placement for an advanced college hitter, especially those taken in the first round. He is advanced enough to end the season in Double-A, and Broadway noted that this is typically the case with first rounders with Newman’s skills. But this is another case where ending the year in Double-A isn’t officially guaranteed.

“That may be a goal for him, but not for us,” Broadway said. “The goal is to get him out, get him playing, get him reps, get him under the lights. Where he ends up this year, if it’s not Pittsburgh, it doesn’t matter.”

The other shortstop in the mix, Adrian Valerio, will start the season with one of the short-season teams, and that assignment probably won’t be known until after the draft, when the Pirates see who they have for Morgantown and Bristol. Valerio has strong defense and good hitting tools, but lacks the ability to consistently drive the ball at this point. This opens up the shortstop position in West Virginia.

My guess is that Newman will see a mid-season promotion to Altoona. Tucker will go to West Virginia when he returns, spend about a month getting re-acclimated to the game, and will move up to Bradenton when Newman moves up to Altoona. And Kevin Kramer will factor in the mix somewhere, playing mostly second base, but also getting some time at shortstop.

All of this is still up in the air, and it’s only speculation at this point, outside of Newman starting in Bradenton and Tucker not being ready by Opening Day. It’s a good problem to have, since it means Tucker is back well ahead of schedule, and the Pirates have two very talented shortstop prospects who are both pushing to move up in the system.

Live Batting Practice

Today was the big group for pitchers throwing live batting practice. On Saturday I got a lot of good video from some of the top young guys in the system, looking at Mitch Keller (who is going to West Virginia this year), Yeudy Garcia, Gage Hinsz, and Bill Roth. I skipped those guys today, and focused on Stephen Tarpley and a few new guys who joined the system in the last year.

First up is Tarpley, who I missed the other day because I was getting video of Yeudy Garcia at the same time. Likewise, today I didn’t see Garcia because I was getting Tarpley. Fortunately, both will be in Bradenton this year where I’ll get plenty of opportunities to see them.

Tarpley features a fastball that sits 90-94 and can hit 97 MPH. His primary secondary pitch is a changeup, and he’s been working on improving his slider in the last year. He’s had command problems in the past, but has gone a long way to fix those in the last year and a half. It looked like he was working on a few mechanical things today, although that could have been normal early Spring Training stuff, rather than a change. His command was off at times, but the second inning he threw (the simulated game portion) looked much better.

David Whitehead was acquired by the Pirates for Charlie Morton. It was mostly a salary dump, as Morton would have had more value to the Pirates, but the Pirates do see value with Whitehead. It looks like he’ll be in the mix for the Altoona rotation. I only saw the first inning Whitehead threw, so I didn’t get a good read on him. He primarily relies on a sinker, and threw that a lot today. I’m looking forward to seeing him once games start, to see his pitch selection in an actual game.

This was the first time I saw Brandon Waddell pitch, although I talked to him last year. He’s a smart pitcher who understands his limitations (not a hard thrower, more control and command). He’s also very advanced with that approach, so much so that the Pirates will most likely be skipping him up to Bradenton this year (this could change, based on the fallout from the MLB and Indianapolis rotations). That is a move the Pirates have made in the past with very few starting prospects out of college — Justin Wilson, Adrian Sampson, Chad Kuhl, and Tyler Eppler. Waddell is in good company there.

James Marvel was drafted in the 36th round and given an over-slot bonus to sign out of Duke. He was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, so I didn’t see him pitch last year. Today was the first time I got to see him, and while it’s hard to get a good read, there were a few takeaways. For one, he didn’t allow much hard contact, and got a ton of ground balls. The breaking pitch showed potential, but wasn’t consistent, and that may be due to the long layoff and this being early in spring. He also works quickly, and I left the final two warmup pitches uncut in order to show this.

Just like the previous two guys, I’m really looking forward to seeing him in game action. He looks like a candidate for the West Virginia rotation.

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  1. Stephen Tarpley lives!

    Not a complaint as much as an observation, but it seems like other NGT pitchers – Brault, Kuhl, Garcia, Williams – have gotten far more attention this winter/spring from both P2 and outside rankings. Very surprising to me considering the velocity from the left side and the fact that he struck out more, walked less, and had a much lower FIP than Yeudy Garcia in the same league while being five months younger.

    Simply a matter of getting lost in depth?

    Control was clearly off in the video above, but holy hell is the ball tough to pick up from that arm slot.

    • By attention, do you mean he hasn’t been written about as much?

      One reason for that is there really isn’t much to write about during the off-season for him, especially since he won’t factor in the majors like the other guys could.

      As for the spring, those guys showed up for camp in mid-February when MLB camp started. Tarpley didn’t arrive until last week, and didn’t start throwing off the mound until this past weekend. I’m also the only reporter at minor league camp. So it was just a matter of getting a chance to see him. I opted for Yeudy Garcia over him last weekend, because they threw at the same time. Yesterday I went with Tarpley.

      I’ll write more about him when he actually starts pitching in games next week.

      • “…especially since he won’t factor in the majors like the other guys could.”

        This is what I assumed, and I appreciate the additional explanation on timing. Again, not complaining, just surprised that he hasn’t been discussed as much among the top lower level pitching prospects here, and didn’t make MLB Pipeline’s or Keith Law’s Top 20 (if I’m remembering correctly).

  2. Wow that music was off-put tingly loud. Where is it coming from, the PA?
    It really ruins the “feel” of watching baseball. I ad a much harder time concentrating on pitches.

    • I was there- it was ridiculous. Tim- make sure people know that are running that thing that the fans really aren’t enjoying that volume, it kills everything. It is actually so loud it hurts ears, and i’m not old and listen to loud music 🙂

    • No one had the lineup today because everyone else covering the Pirates either took off, or went to the game on the road, so they wouldn’t see the lineup posted in the locker room. Tim was covering the minor league side all day. You’ll have to wait until the morning for the lineup.

      I watched the game and gave Tim some notes, which he will use in a future article about the particular players

    • There is a gap in the system at SS due to the trade late last year of JaCoby Jones to Detroit for Soria for RP insurance down the stretch. If Newman does well in ST, I hope the Pirates use him at that level rather than a lesser talented player

    • From what I’ve heard, upper 80s, touching 90. Don’t know about relief. But as Brault showed us last year, you don’t need velocity if you can pitch and if you’ve got good stuff. Waddell could be along the same lines as a guy who doesn’t need velocity.

  3. Well innit’ nice to have a system kinda’ loaded with shortstops! I for one think Jordy is a solid major league starter and Kang might be the next Miguel Tejada if his legs come all the way back. Hanson would still be at SS if he had a chance to play before 2020. By the time it matters we will have traded most of these kids away but i’m curious to see who makes it all the way up. Heck, if Hurdle would start JHay at SS Adam Frazier certainly could take reps there.

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