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.