By Bill Brink
The Pirates selected high school shortstop Cole Tucker with their first pick of the amateur draft Thursday, the second consecutive year in which they took a high school position player with their top choice.
Tucker, 17 and a switch-hitter for Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, went to the Pirates at No. 24 overall.
The selection came as a surprise. Baseball America ranked Tucker as the No. 83 player in the draft, and there were several higher-ranked players available when the Pirates chose.
“We felt he was the right player, the best player available for us on our board,” general manager Neal Huntington said in a conference call. “We did not think he would get to us at 39 [their supplemental selection].”
Tucker said on a conference call that he knew he was in the running to become a Pirate.
“I think it’s a great place to play,” he said. “I hear nothing but great things about the Pirates organization and I’m stoked to be a part of it.”
The Pirates followed Tucker by taking University of San Diego first baseman Connor Joe with the 39th pick, in the competitive balance round. Baseball America ranked Joe No. 101 overall. Selecting a player who was further down on draft boards could allow the Pirates to sign him for less than his assigned slot value and use the savings elsewhere.
Tucker hit .404 for Mountain Pointe this season with 5 home runs, 8 doubles and 4 triples. He played for the Team USA squad that beat Japan to win the 18-and-under World Cup last year.
“We really like the advancement in the strength, we like the advancement in the bat in the last year,” Huntington said.
The rare prospect who is considered to have the tools to play shortstop in professional ball, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Tucker’s defense is currently ahead of his bat. He said he heard the scouts’ concerns: He can play short, but can he hit?
“I feel like I really showed people I can do that this year,” he said.
Tucker credited repetition for his defensive prowess and his improvement at the plate. Paying attention to situational factors also aided his defense, he said.
“I think just being a student of the game is really something that gives me an upper leg on guys,” he said. “I watch tendencies, I see what guys do, I feel like I read hitters and pitches.”
Tucker is committed to play in college at Arizona, but Huntington said he believes Tucker will sign and turn pro.
“Our expectation is, Cole is ready to take this step in his life and start riding some buses,” Huntington said.
The Pirates received the No. 39 pick from Miami Sunday in the trade for reliever Bryan Morris. The right-handed Joe hit .367 with nine home runs this season.
The Pirates selected 24th by virtue of their 94-68 record last season. They had not selected this low since 1991.
In the first round last season, the Pirates took outfielder Austin Meadows and catcher Reese McGuire, two high school hitters.
The 24th selection comes with an assigned value of $1,925,500, according to Baseball America, and the 39th is worth $1,457,600. The Pirates have $7,063,700 to spend, according to the publication, on all of their selections in the top 10 rounds and on the portion of any bonus that exceeds $100,000 after the 10th round.
If the Pirates exceed that bonus pool, they pay a tax on the overage. If they exceed it by more than 5 percent, they lose a future draft pick.
The Pirates took right-hander Mitch Keller from Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with their second-round pick at No. 64 overall. With their competitive balance round B pick at No. 73, they chose Texas high school right-hander Trey Supak.
Brady Aiken, a left-hander from Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, went first overall to the Houston Astros. Texas high schooler Tyler Kolek, a hard-throwing right-hander, went second overall to Miami.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published June 5, 2014 9:46 PM