The Pirates first round selection (24) in the 2014 MLB draft class has a litany of attractive and impressive attributes, but on this team, he’ll quickly find himself out of chances unless he can prove he and his thus far anemic bat belong.
Early this past October, Derek Shelton said he considers Cole Tucker to be an infielder. This struck me as funny, because Mr. Shelton almost exclusively played him in the outfield in 2020.
Here’s a kid who came up through the system with a stellar defensive reputation. Even his brief call up in 2019 he was electric at short stop but the Pirates still chose to give Erik Gonzalez far more reps.
Now, they didn’t have any real answers in center field, and Tucker’s arm is rated at 70, which is phenomenal. Couple that with his speed and overall go get it acumen and you could make an argument that it should have worked.
The problem is, it really didn’t, as it appears Derek seemed extremely comfortable admitting, like the day after the season ended.
We all know what this club has coming in the pipeline. Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, Rodolfo Castro, Oneil Cruz, and Ji-Hwan Bae will all push for middle infield spots in the very near future. Before you tell me Cruz is moving to right field, find me anyone in the organization that agrees. You can think it all you like, but until I see a sign that the club agrees, he’s a short stop or third baseman.
It actually troubles me that the Pirates preferred to watch Erik Gonzalez who has zero chance of impacting this club when and if they return to competitiveness handle a position that Kevin Newman or Cole Tucker should have patrolled.
Heading into 2021, Erik Gonzalez was one of the very first players to be resigned by the club, and as of now they’ve still been unable, or unwilling, to move Adam Frazier. We hear competition will decide who plays but we need to be honest with ourselves a bit here too. If Frazier is here, he has to play, because at some point, he has to be traded.
That leaves three players, Newman, Tucker and Gonzalez to battle for playing time at short and scrap time at second and third. In my mind, Gonzalez has no place in this battle.
Kevin Newman is a capable fielder, but on his best day he’s not as good as either at the position, but he also happens to be the only one of the three who ever actually hit. Now, of course I’ve heard his results don’t match his peripherals, but results matter too don’t they?
I’ll take results that don’t match up over the very real .215 average Tucker has posted during his stint with the Pirates or Erik Gonzalez and his hard hit rate that never amounts to more than at ’em balls.
Looking past this season, it’s hard to fathom any of these three being the short stop of the team that plays meaningful games in August.
Unless Cole Tucker steps up and grabs this year by the neck.
If the competition is a true one, meaning not weighted by who the team wanted to win it, or who should win it, Tucker needs to come out less like the always smiling and charming kid just enjoying the moment and instead show some willingness to fight for what’s his.
Play the great defense he always has, but he also has to make the bat matter. He needs to be more a threat to gap a ball than Steven Brault. Needs to show he has a bat that will at the very least, give the Pirates pause to move him from his position, if not move someone else.
That’s what is expected of a number one pick. It probably doesn’t sound fair, but in competitive sports, fairness is left for the rule book, not opportunity.
He has plenty of time from a control standpoint, and the kid is only 24, its not like he’s been rotting on the vine, but if you slow down to soak it in at this level, or stop improving year over year, you start to understand quickly that there is a new number one pick every season.
The Pirates have several on the club, some not their own. Colin Moran was chosen number 6 overall by the Miami Marlins just the year prior in 2013. He’s now on his third club and has still not reached his potential. He too will get a shot this year to fully bloom and show his pedigree is more than his draft slot.
For Cole Tucker the great Jonas Salk said it best “The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.”
Time to earn the opportunity Cole, if you’d like to do more of course.