The Pirates wanted Cole Tucker to build off his late success from last year in Altoona. Tucker had a strong finish to the year, seeing his offensive production improving over the final month of the season, before going down with a hand injury.

So far this season, he’s definitely carrying over the improvements on the offense. Tucker has an .859 OPS heading into Monday’s action, showing off a good average and a good ability to get on base, along with a good amount of power for a middle infielder. That’s a good sign for the Pirates, as he looks to be the shortstop of the future in Pittsburgh.

I’ve written before about how the Pirates seem to be preparing him for that role with some subtle signs — like moving Kevin Newman to second base to get experience at the position, but keeping Tucker exclusively at shortstop, which pushed shortstop Stephen Alemais to second base.

Perhaps another sign was his placement in the locker room during big league camp.

Tucker was placed in the corner with all of the MLB infield veterans, surrounded by David Freese, Sean Rodriguez, Josh Harrison, and Jordy Mercer. Other minor league infielders, including Newman and Kevin Kramer, were on the opposite side of the room, surrounded by fellow prospects. That doesn’t seem like a mistake, and Tucker took advantage of the situation.

“I was bunched up right next to Freese, SeanRod, J-Hay, and Jordy,” Tucker said. ‘Guys that play infield, guys that have been in the big leagues for a long time, guys that have been doing what I want to do ultimately. Just bugging them about what they do and how they go about their business, and just taking little nuggets from them.”

Tucker developed a relationship with Mercer during this time, and while also taking grounders at short with him every day. During this time, he would pick his brain about certain plays and situations.

“Jordy stresses how important it is to make the routine play, and he’s really good at it, and that’s why he is who he is and has done it for so long,” Tucker said. “Jordy is who I want to be.”

The relationship is similar to what Mercer went through several years ago with Clint Barmes. Mercer brought up Barmes often when working with Tucker.

“He brought up Clint a lot and how he was really helpful in his transition going from the minor leagues to the big leagues,” Tucker said. “He kind of laughs about it, because he’s the longest tenured Pirate right now. He’s not that old, but he talks like he’s old, but he’s really not.”

Tucker projects to be a better overall player than Mercer. He’s got speed and can be a threat on the bases, while also projecting for a more consistent bat. His defense has looked smooth the last two years, and he can be at least as good as Mercer in that regard. Tucker says that he wants to be like Mercer, but that’s more about the role than the specific skill comparisons.

“He’s the everyday shortstop,’ Tucker said. “There’s only 30 of those guys. That’s who I want to be, and that’s who I feel I can be. That’s definitely a goal of mine.”

With the way Tucker has been progressing the last few years, and with the way he’s starting the 2018 season, he’s on his way to achieving that goal. And with how the Pirates are handling his development, compared to the other shortstop options, it seems that he’s going to one day soon get one of those 30 starting shortstop jobs in Pittsburgh.

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