3-31-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
I’ve beat this kid up.
Early, often, and with no real off ramp for him figuring it out.
I loved the kid’s attitude, and personality. The speed and hustle, coupled with the genuine and obvious love of playing the game, but none of that on its own was ever going to be enough.
Then he goes out and gets himself a celebrity girlfriend and all anyone could talk about was how quickly she’d break up with him when he gets demoted. I guess he’s already proven us wrong on that front for now.
Here’s the point, I’d absolutely love to eat crow, and let’s just say I have the place setting laid out.
Before we get into what Tucker has done and why he might be coming around now, I think we would all benefit from truly wrapping our arms around the journey this kid has gone through with this organization. I don’t mean to use this as an excuse for why his development has taken so long, as much as illustrate just how meandering a journey can be.
Cole was drafted 24th overall in the first round by the Pirates in the 2014 MLB Anateur draft. A 17 year old athletic short stop, Tucker was expected to take a while, but was also seen as having a frame to build on, meaning his height had room to build on.
First of all, it’s not often you draft a 17 year old, finding talent that young is usually reserved for the international signing period, and let’s be completely honest here, domestic scouts aren’t used to looking for the same things international scouts are. Point is, this wasn’t a safe pick to say the least. If you want to call it a signability choice I’d be hard pressed to argue.
He’d start rookie ball almost immediately in 2014 and go up a level just about every year through 2019.
He never really performed. Batting average never really peaked, power never emerged, walks and strikeouts never flipped like you’d like to see, and more than anything, he just never filled out. He still looked like the skinny kid they drafted five years later, and the previous development system allowed him, no, forced him to progress all the way to MLB driven by perceived pedigree more than achievement.
When he was called up to MLB in 2019 because of an injury to Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman, it was evident that he was only using his arms to swing. He struck out 40 times in 159 at bats, and was easily overcome by returning players.
Fact is, he had done precious little with the bat to show he was ready for promotion, but the eminently likeable kid was still looked at as someone fans would want to see more of, and soon. Some even would blame his struggles on this early call up, ignoring entirely that all he did was continue what he had done in the system. It’s not like he got to MLB and became a train wreck in comparison, instead he just continued to not perform.
Enter 2020, new GM Ben Cherington and Derek Shelton decided Cole Tucker who had always been a short stop was now going to play Center field. It seemingly came out of nowhere, and it was being tried on the fly at the major league level. Ignore for a moment the bat still wasn’t playing, nothing was really done to improve that aspect of his game, I mean the team quite literally retained the hitting coach from the regime they completely replaced. He looked awful out there. Clearly had no clue tracking balls, instead relying on pure athleticism to get to everything and almost doing some real damage to himself running into the outfield wall to make a catch that for anyone with experience would have been routine or at least not dangerous. He never complained.
In 2021 he’d split time between AAA and MLB, still being asked to play some outfield and with the benefit of actual training and a switch to corner, started looking a bit more like he might just be able to handle the spot. The Pirates, still holding on to Rick Eckstein finally tried addressing the lack of oomph Cole had in his swing, and by the end of 2021, he started showing some positive signs that he might just be taking to it. Certainly not enough to pencil him in to the 26 man for 2022, but at least give himself a shot.
And here we are, Spring of 2022. A Spring that most people including me, saw as an ending to another sad Pirates draft history story as the likely outcome.
But wait, um, the kid looks a bit different.
Cole has finally added some bulk, specifically to his legs and more importantly, he’s using his lanky build to add power to his swing. He’s never going to be a guy who hits 30 homeruns, but he’s got speed and gap power if he’s swinging like this. He just looks different and Andy Haines seams to agree with him as the new hitting coach.
Tucker used to do what many observers called “the rock” in the batters box. A bad habit that robs a hitter of the ability to stay grounded and get leg muscles into the swing. Seeing that disappear this Spring has been wonderful, for a couple big reasons.
First, Cole is legitimately a great kid, exactly the type of player you’d want in your clubhouse. Second, it shows that the Pirates are truly working hard to develop ALL the talent they have, not just the prospects Ben Cherington brought in.
Look, nobody is blind here. Tucker at almost 26 years old and with serious talent coming quick hasn’t proven anything yet, but he’s also a guy who doesn’t even reach arbitration until 2024, so if he’s real, if he’s really figured it out, he benefits this team one way or another.
Good for Cole, and honestly good for this development team if it holds true.
Spring is Spring. We just watched Kevin Newman hit .600 last year and bomb the entire season. None of what we’ve seen from Tucker means he’s finally going to look like a first round pick, but it’s fair to say he’s earned another shot, one I sincerely doubted he’d get.
Again, my table setting is there Mr. Tucker, make me eat crow, I won’t even ask for salt.