Adding 22-year-old shortstop Cole Tucker to the 40-man roster was an easy decision for the Pirates, who drafted him in the first round in 2014 out of Mountain Pointe High in Phoenix.
Still, the Pirates have a lot more reason to be pleased with Tucker than they did six months ago. After a brutal spring and early summer, Tucker leveled out at Double-A Altoona in 2018 and then finished third in hitting at the Arizona Fall League with a .370 average in 20 games for Surprise.
He tied for fifth in the AFL with 18 runs and posted a .442 on-base percentage and .457 slugging percentage.
Tucker was hitting .321 as of April 23, but then collected just two hits in his next 40 at-bats and was lugging around a .208 average on May 7. It dipped as low as .195 on May 19, when he was slugging just .285.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound, switch-hitting shortstop’s long levers were working against him, and his mechanics seemed completely out of whack. He didn’t even have a stolen base at that point after recording 47 thefts in 2017.
However, Tucker went 3-for-4 on May 20, the first of five multi-hit games in the last 10 games of May. Then he hit .273 in June, .278 in July with three home runs and .264 in August to finish with a respectable .259/.333/.356 batting line in 133 games. He stole 35 bases to help the Curve reach the Eastern League playoffs.
“I think he started controlling his body a lot better,” farm director Larry Broadway said. “He was off balance on his left side, so it’s easy for him to get off balance. He clicked some balls well early, but when pitchers go in and out and add and subtract speeds, he could get on his front side and kind of lose his foundation.
“Toward the end of the season and especially into August, you started seeing his ability to stabilize in the box. He came out of instructional league looking really good. He was centered and strong and balanced and letting it eat.”
Tucker’s defense continues to be his strong suit. He cut his errors from 16 in 108 games in 2017 to 14 in 131 games in 2018. He will almost certainly start the 2019 season at Triple-A Indianapolis with Kevin Newman likely sticking on the big league roster.
Tucker could be in line for occasional callups to time to provide infield depth now that the Pirates have moved on from veterans Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer.
— After hitting 20 home runs for Double-A Altoona in 2018, first baseman Will Craig tied for the Arizona Fall League league lead with six homers while hitting .304/378/.570. The 2016 first-round pick has embraced launch angle, posting 53 extra-base hits in 2018 while striking out 128 times.
— Outfielder Bryan Reynolds hit .302 with the Curve in 2018 but just .188 in the AFL with just two extra-base hits in 18 games.