It has been over two years, as far as the calendar is concerned, since the Pirates #5 Prospect at the time, Cole Tucker, stepped into the batters box during his first Major League start and proceeded to walk off the game versus the Giants with a 2-run blast into the PIRATES bushes. Since that time Tucker has accumulated an additional 269 at bats for Pittsburgh; slashing .213/.259/.320 with only two more homers in what has been an up and down, but mostly down, career to this point.
Always appearing like he is having the time of his life, with a giant smile on his face, a bounce in his step and consistent hustle every time he takes the field, Tucker is the guy you root for to succeed. However, at some point it has to turn into more for General Manager Ben Cherington to justify his spot on the 40-Man. Sooner or later the kid, and yes he is still a kid having recently turned 25 years old, has to hit; and let’s not pretend like he hasn’t been given the opportunities to do so.
Prior to official start of the season, after being optioned to AAA-Indianapolis and assigned to AA-Altoona, it was determined that Tucker-along with Jared Olivia-would not travel north to the Alternate Site, but instead stay behind in Florida for “skill development” (aka hitting instruction) from AAA Hitting Coach Jon Nunnally; who has been given at least partial credit for helping Ke’Bryan Hayes unlock his swing at PNG Field last season.
For almost an entire month Tucker received personalized one-on-two guidance from Nunnally before being assigned to AAA, where his hitting coach would continue to be none other than Jon Nunnally; at least for the most part as he did have a short stint with the Pirates at the end of May and into early June.
Now, he’s back up to once again to “provide depth”, and not really get too many at bats as he received just 15 the last time. However, in talks with Tucker, it seems like he is is just happy to be here. Also, he was quoted as saying, “I’m having good at bats. Our Triple A hitting coach is awesome, Jon Nunnally, he said ‘you look sexy, keep doing it’. Trying to hold onto that and keep that rolling here.”, which you couldn’t really tell by looking at the stats. On the season, Tucker has posted a .214 AVG, a .690 OPS with 2 homers and 10 total extra base hits.
Of course. I already know that some will point to his defensive ability as a way for him to have a better chance of sticking in the majors, and for a while I was of this belief as well; setting guidelines as to how high his average would need to be, because the glove would definitely play. However, after digging into the numbers, it seems like myself and many others may have misconstrued athleticism with defensive ability; at least to a certain degree.
In 347 innings at shortstop, in a Pirates Uniform, Tucker has earned a -1 DRS and -4 OAA; and although Minor League Baseball doesn’t go into this great of detail with defensive statistics, there is definitely enough information there to draw some reasonable conclusions. Over his last two seasons in AAA, Tucker has a combined .953 Field Percentage, which would qualify him for the 3rd worst fielding percentage among qualified shortstops; right in between Bo Bichette and Javier Baez. Also his RF/9 (3.885) would put him at least a half a point behind the same Javy Baez, and a full point behind the last Pirates player to lead the league in that category; Jack Wilson in 2004. And, even he as glove first player was able to maintain a .269 AVG in Pittsburgh.
So, if we are being honest, and not just hopeful, how much time does Cole Tucker realistically have to right the ship? Well, the good news for Tucker is that he has at least another year of team control before he would reach his first year of arbitration in 2023; making him a very cheap option. On the other side of the coin is the impending 40-Man Roster Crunch that could be upcoming in the off-season, depending on trades, options, free agency, arbitration tenders and players that need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft; albeit. if I had to guess, there should still be some space for him. Which would leave him with this year, and possibly the next to prove himself.
However, anyway you look at it, this isn’t a lot of time. And for all any of us know, it could end up being a lot shorter.