When the Pirates call up a top prospect, we typically do an article looking at what to expect from the player right away, along with their long-term upsides. We’ve called this feature “The Book”, and typically it features one player at a time.
The Pirates called up Cole Tucker and Bryan Reynolds today, their number three and eight ranked prospects, respectively. It’s rare for two top prospects to arrive on the same day, and rather than writing two separate articles, we’re combining it all into one. Here is The Book on Cole Tucker and Bryan Reynolds. Or is that The Books on Cole Tucker and Bryan Reynolds? I’m not sure, but the rest of the article is definitely about both players.
Where Did They Come From?
The Pirates drafted Tucker in the first round in 2014. The pick was controversial at the time, as Tucker looked like a reach at the spot, with a lower upside than some of the other prep players around him. The national rankings also had him about 15-20 spots lower than where the Pirates picked. After the draft, it was revealed that the Pirates weren’t the only team high on him, and that his draft stock had risen leading up to the draft, to the point where he wouldn’t have been around for the Pirates’ second pick 15 spots later.
Tucker has turned out to be a solid choice. He’s shown strong tools throughout his minor league career, enough to make him our number three prospect on the tools alone.
The Pirates acquired Reynolds prior to the 2018 season in a trade that sent Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants. They also got Kyle Crick and international money in that deal, with the money going to sign Ji-Hwan Bae. Reynolds was the top prospect in the deal, and one of the top prospects in a thin San Francisco system at the time.
What Is The Upside?
Tucker has a chance to be an above-average shortstop, and possibly an impact player, depending on how much the bat shows up. His defense has gotten smoother the last few years, and he should provide positive value at the shortstop position. You could argue that the only guy in Triple-A or the majors with better defense is Erik Gonzalez, although the defense for Gonzalez hasn’t shown up well this year, and the offense has been poor.
Tucker’s offensive upside hasn’t consistently translated over to the stat line. He’s got good contact skills, plate patience, and good raw power for the middle infield from his tall, athletic frame. His offense seems to have clicked this year, with a .333/.415/.579 line and three homers, which is half of his career high of six from 2017.
It’s hard to say how much Tucker’s offense will translate over to the majors, since his career includes a lot of inconsistent performances, and a small sample size of dominant hitting this year. What we do know is that he doesn’t have to hit much in order to beat out the overall values from Gonzalez or Newman.
Reynolds has the upside of an average starter at the corners, and possibly better if he adds some power to his game. He can play center field, but lacks the range and arm strength to play the spot as a starter. He hits for average and gets on base, and this year he has added some power. Reynolds has five homers and a .367 ISO in his brief time in Triple-A. I wouldn’t say those lofty numbers are legit, but they could be an encouraging sign that his power is increasing over the .136 ISO from last year in Altoona.
This is a good opportunity for Reynolds to step up as a future contributor. The Pirates only have Corey Dickerson under team control through the end of the year, and will need a starter to replace him next year. Reynolds and Jason Martin are the top internal candidates competing for that spot, and with so many outfielders injured right now, both players should get a good amount of playing time. A strong showing could put Reynolds, or Martin, in line for more playing time in the future, and a crack at a starting job next year.
Biggest Areas to Watch
I thought about doing a “How will they do right away” section. That’s almost impossible for any player coming up, and even more difficult for these two, considering their unprecedented lofty numbers. Instead, I’ll look at the areas to watch, focusing on what I expect to be the biggest strength/safest tool in their transition, and what I expect to be their make or break area.
The strength for Tucker right now would be his defense. I wouldn’t feel comfortable projecting any of his offensive tools to instantly translate over to the majors, considering the history. The defense should at least provide positive value. As for the make or break area, the power is nice to see from Tucker this year, but I think that if he arrives and just hits for average and gets on base, that would be enough (combined with the defense) to make him the best starting choice over Gonzalez and Newman.
Reynolds has been very consistent with his tools regarding hitting for average and getting on base via a high walk rate. I’d expect that to continue and translate well to the majors, making the average and OBP his best strength right now. The power would be the biggest area to watch. He doesn’t need to have monster power like he did in his limited time this year, but if he ends up in the .150 ISO range, he could be a productive MLB starter, and a great depth option in the short-term.
The Long-Term Analysis
Tucker is the shortstop of the future for the Pirates, and based on what we’ve seen from the other two shortstops this year, he doesn’t have to do much to be the starter the rest of the way. At this point the Pirates would control his rights through the 2025 season, giving them six full years of control beyond the 2019 season.
At the least, I project him as an average starter at shortstop, with the chance to be above-average or better, depending on how well the offense continues to develop. The tools are there, and now it’s just a matter of consistently applying them in games.
Reynolds doesn’t have the massive upside that the Pirates have seen from their previous outfield prospects, but he could end up a starter capable of putting up a 2 WAR season. That could go up in the future if he sees an increase in his power.
As for this year, he’s probably looking at being depth out of Triple-A, and an injury replacement off the bench at best. The current opportunity will be his best chance to start this year, but he should get pushed back down the depth charts when everyone gets healthy. If he does well with his time this year, he could be an option to take over for Corey Dickerson, staying in a starting role until the Pirates find an above-average or better option to take his place.