Pittsburgh Pirates: Cole Tucker Adjusting to Everday Role at New Position

Photo Credit: Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Photo Credit: Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Cole Tucker in the first round of the 2014, they envisioned him as someone who could become a long term answer at the shortstop position.

Tall and athletic, the selection of Tucker was seen as a bit of a reach, but there was little doubting that defensively he had the potential to stick at short.

Fast forward to last season, Tucker finally got his call to the majors and it didn’t take him long to make his presence known. In a rain shortened outing against the San Francisco Giants, Tucker’s first major league hit was a home run, helping lead the Pirates to a victory.

While he struggled to find his way offensively, Tucker played strong at short, only committing two errors in over 300 innings at the position, and posting on the positive side in advanced fielding metrics (+2 defensive runs saved).

As Tucker was acclimating himself in the majors, Kevin Newman - the Pirates’ first round pick in 2015 - established himself as the team’s shortstop, batting over .300 and hitting 12 home runs while swiping 16 bags.

The advanced metrics weren’t kind to Newman on the defensive side of things, but he held his own enough to earn him the nod as the starting shortstop heading into this season.

Then it became a question on how just exactly the Pirates were going to get Tucker into the lineup now that Newman had laid claim to short and Adam Frazier was a mainstay at second. Erik Gonzalez has also emerged the last week or so, forcing himself into the lineup in the infield.

So the Pirates decided to try and use Tucker’s athleticism to use and have him start to take reps in the outfield during ‘Summer Camp’.

Learning a new position on the fly is hard on it’s own, but trying to do so at the major league level isn’t something that is done often, for just cause.

There has certainly been some growing pains, Tucker certainly has a -4 defensive runs saved mark, according Fangraphs, but you can see him slowly getting comfortable at the position as the season as progressed.

Since firing a pinch-hit double in the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians on August 19, Tucker has started seven-of-eight games for the Pirates. The lone game he didn’t start was against the Milwaukee Brewers, coming in place of an injured Colin Moran (Tucker would go 1-for-3 with a run scored that night).

Now that he has seen more consistent playing time, you can start seeing a little bit more of a comfort factor at the plate. Tucker recorded a three-hit game against the Brewers and has seven knocks in 27 at-bats in that span (.259).

The average still isn’t ideal, but it is an improvement over when he was getting the occasional start. His base hit in game one of Thursday’s doubleheader drove in the go-ahead run, as the Pirates eventually swept both of the contests.

Looking at some of the advanced numbers gives a mixed feeling as what we can expect from Tucker offensively the rest of the way.

On one side, he is hitting more line drives than any other point in his professional career. Currently, 24.3% of baseballs put in play by Tucker are line drives, the highest mark he has posted even throughout the minors.

He also has posted a respectable 14.1-degree launch angle, which is second best on the team. Certainly not at an elite level, but definitely enough to where he could put more balls in the gaps if he hits them hard enough. 

Which then leads to the downside of his metrics. His exit velocity is 82.9 MPH currently according to Fangraphs. Only Jarrod Dyson and Guillermo Heredia have a lower EV. Heredia was recently designated for assignment, and Dyson is a notoriously below average hitter.

What does all this mean? It means that Tucker is a 24-year old player in his first full season in the majors (if you can even call it that). Now not only still trying to adjust to major league pitching, he’s having to learn a new position on the fly.

The most important part in all of this is that the Pirates are giving him a stretch of consistent at-bats, even if it makes more sense for them to be at shortstop, a position he can give you a positive return defensively. 

Regardless, Tucker is doing a better job of late in making contact. The next step is going to be to start making more solid contact and putting more of those line drives into the gap.

What has been your impressions of Tucker in the outfield? Do you think he has a future there, or should he be moved back to shortstop? Comment below with your thoughts and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy to continue the conversation!


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