Shortstop Cole Tucker lost his prospect eligibility in early September last year. He didn’t stop his development at that point. In fact, it might have been the point where everything started to click for the 2014 first-rounder out of Mountain Pointe High in Phoenix.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Tucker has the defensive ability to stick at shortstop. His biggest challenge has been a tendency to put the ball on the ground too often, rather than taking advantage of the power generated from his larger frame.
Tucker focused on adjusting his swing with Pirates hitting coach Rick Eckstein last year after being called up. The focus was largely on body positioning, with Tucker moving his hand placement from off his shoulder and behind his body to more mid-line with his body.
He aimed to keep his feet planted, preventing them from drifting. The switch-hitter also aimed to make contact more consistently on his upswing.
“My body just triggers better, and my swing is better, and I’m able to make better swing decisions and stay grounded and stay strong better from that position,” Tucker said of the new approach.
The new swing is something Tucker had when he returned to the majors last September. He hit .265 with five extra-base hits in 15 games, while improving his chase and swinging-strike rates.
Tucker and Eckstein aren’t changing much this year, since most of their work was done during the 2019 season.
“This year is just one layer deeper with Rick,” Tucker said. “I don’t think we’re changing stuff. His foundation and philosophy of hitting hasn’t changed, but we have gotten closer to our analytics department.”
The presentation of analytics has been the biggest change with the new front office in Pittsburgh, and could further push guys like Tucker to better results in the majors.
“It’s being presented in ways that I can explain it,” Tucker said. “I’m a 23-year-old with a high school degree. They just dumb it down for us, and make it as simple as possible. It’s been great so far.
“I think we’ll have better communication and better results this year because of it.”
— The Pirates sent 11 players down from big leauge camp on March 9, including shortstop Oneil Cruz, first baseman Will Craig and pitching prospects Blake Cederlind and JT Brubaker. They still have 48 active players remaining in camp, including Tucker and top prospects Mitch Keller and Ke’Bryan Hayes.
— Blake Cederlind made a lot of headlines this spring with a fastball that can touch triple digits. The righthanded reliever touched 102 mph last year, so the velocity isn’t new. He has struggled with control and needs a better out pitch. The control was an issue this year in big league camp, and will be the biggest thing for Cederlind to focus on in his 2020 development.