BRADENTON, Fl. – Cole Tucker was in a wheelchair being rolled through the airport last August, one day after his labrum surgery. He got an alert on his phone, and when he checked it, it read: “ESPN: Pirates’ First Rounder Cole Tucker Out 12 Months With Labrum Surgery.”
“I was like, ‘I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that it doesn’t really take that long,'” Tucker said. “I think it’s been seven-ish months, and we’re getting close to being ready for game action, and that’s really exciting, and it’s a testament to everyone who has helped me with my rehab and recovery.”
Tucker threw from the shortstop position today, which was actually the second time he’s done that since the surgery. The first came on Wednesday, with a few easier throws on the backfields. Today, he set up on field four at Pirate City, and took about 15-20 grounders, including going to his right for some longer throws for the first time.
“It felt great,” Tucker said on the deeper throws today. “I threw them, and it doesn’t hurt. Last year, I tore the labrum in May, and every throw from then on, until I had surgery in August, really hurt. It’s relieving to not have that pain anymore.”
Tucker collided with a first baseman in Delmarva on May 23rd, and believes that is when the injury happened. He ran into the first baseman when he came into the baseline on a flip from the pitcher, and fell hard on his shoulder. A few weeks after that, Tucker said his shoulder started hurting.
By the end of July, Tucker was starting to get more days off due to the shoulder. He was scratched from a game in late July, which sparked trade rumors. He played his final game on July 28th, then spent about ten games out of the lineup with an ice pack on his shoulder after games, before finally being placed on the disabled list. He had surgery on August 26th.
The rehab process has gone better than expected for Tucker. He told me today that he feels like nothing happened, and that his arm strength feels the same as it did before the surgery. The focus now on the field will be building up the volume of throws, then getting him into games at shortstop, where he will start with three innings and build from there.
Offensively, Tucker was limited from the left side a few weeks ago, but is now even from both sides in his effort during batting practice. He has stood in to track pitches during live batting practice this week, and will probably start swinging during live BP on Monday or Tuesday, depending on the pitching schedule.
“Obviously, I didn’t enjoy surgery. I didn’t enjoy the rehab process,” Tucker said. “But I’m really enjoying how I’m coming out of it. So it’s going to be really fun to get out and start playing and throwing some people out.”
At this point, Tucker said it’s looking like he could return in April, which is much different than his original timeline which would have put him out until July or August. The return in April is still up in the air, and barring any setbacks.
When he does return, it will be interesting to see where he is placed. The Pirates have a lot of shortstop prospects in the system at the lower levels. Last year’s first round pick, Kevin Newman, looks like a candidate to move to Bradenton. Tucker could go back to West Virginia for the first half, but then he’d be blocking Adrian Valerio — a talented fielder who could make the jump from the GCL. Tucker did start hitting well his final two months before the surgery, and without considering other factors or other players, he looks like he’d be ready to start the year in Bradenton. But no assignment has been given yet.
“I would love to,” Tucker said of starting the year in Bradenton. “I think I’m ready for it, and I’m excited by the opportunity to get to Bradenton and play everyday, and play shortstop, and help the team win. I’m excited.”