What’s Next for Cole Tucker?

Deep question. Here’s another first round pick for the Pirates, this one from 2014, two years longer than Will Craig who we just discussed yesterday. The perception is much different though, and it’s largely based on the age they were drafted. Tucker was drafted out of high school, while Craig was a College senior.

Cole made his debut in 2019 and after the excitement wore, his areas of deficiency started to become apparent. Again, Cole is only 24, so he isn’t in danger of being aged out of a shot but the strange way the club has chosen to deploy him might.

It’s hard to argue, right this second, Cole Tucker is the best short stop on the club. He’s got range for days and an arm to match but the Pirates decided to put him in center field instead. It didn’t go well, and I have a very hard time blaming Tucker. He had never played the position before and it showed. The metrics are all there, he’s fast, athletic, has a hell of an arm, it all makes sense from that perspective but beyond the obvious defensive questions, many including myself asked, will he ever hit like he needs to at that position?

A reader commented yesterday something that really struck me, and it’s an embarrassingly simple premise. One of my solutions in my Will Craig piece was to potentially give him a shot in right field, the reader suggested why would you not play him at first and move Bell to right? In other words, why create two holes in the defense instead of 1?

I mean, Bell in the outfield isn’t going to happen, but that simple thought really hit me. I just wrote up there that Tucker is the best short stop on the club and he didn’t get a chance to play there in 2020. Newman earned playing time with his bat in 2019, I guess the thought was that Gonzalez was almost just as good at short and the bat was negligible.

That was 2020 though. I have no way to verify this but I firmly believe had 2020 been normal Tucker starts the season in AAA, possibly even learning the outfield. As we head into 2021, I can’t see Tucker getting back out there. Anthony Alford will get a shot, and probably not a short look at that. Jared Oliva got a cup of coffee last year and I see him being part of the mix too.

So is the Erik Gonzalez as an everyday starter experiment over? If it is, ok, Tucker slots right in as the short stop, Newman at second. But we have that pesky Adam Frazier, who loses his spot in the outfield if Reynolds moves back to left.

Sure, trades could and should happen, but if they don’t, before you know it, Cole Tucker will join Will Craig as a very long in the tooth prospect that hasn’t managed to stick or get a real chance.

I believe at the plate Tucker was given opportunity in 2020, for what that season was worth, but it’s hard to say very much went his way. With his speed, having an OBP below .300 is a crime, and made many think of Willie Mays Hayes doing pushups for hitting the ball in the air, well at least until it came out that the Pirates had changed the plane of his swing to induce more launch angle.

Put it this way, side by side, who do you expect more from in 2021, Phil Evans or Cole Tucker? I’ll pause here so you can argue with yourself before ultimately landing on Evans. That’s a problem.

Of all the issues that Ben Cherington inherited, the legacy of Neal Huntington’s drafts might be the hardest to overcome. On one hand you have to try to get something out of who he picked, on the other Ben’s name isn’t on any of them and if it isn’t going to work, it isn’t going to work.

I fear Travis Swaggerty is also in this category, although I’ll admit I’m not in the majority with this thought. Having watched both he and Jared Oliva play I have no qualms telling you I think Oliva has the brighter future.

More than money, the pathetic history of Pittsburgh’s number one draft picks is the single biggest reason for where they are today. For every Ke’Bryan Hayes there are three Will Craig’s in the past two decades.

Nick Gonzales, as we speak, is the best prospect in the system and he just got picked in a season where he couldn’t play organized baseball. Good news considering who is doing the drafting now, bad news because it should never be that easy to jump to the top of the board in an organization.

Cole Tucker has talent, I’m not pronouncing him dead, but opportunity is taken more often than given for a prospect in MLB. If Cole wants to live up to his draft position he’ll probably need to take the bull by the horns, because nobody is going to just give it to him.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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