Shortstop Cole Tucker talks to reporters Thursday after a press conference. Tucker, 18, signed with the Pirates Thursday. He graduated this year from a high school in Phoenix, Ariz., where he had a .404 batting average with 30 RBI and 13 stolen bases. He starts Friday with the Gulf Coast Pirates.
By Bill Brink / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The pictures were over. Cole Tucker went to put on his new Pirates jersey at the podium after posing with general manager Neal Huntington, and several reporters waited in silence as Tucker maneuvered the buttons.
“You always say, you never want to be the guy up there fiddling with his buttons in front of the entire press conference,” Tucker said, breaking the silence and eliciting laughter. “It’s not the worst feeling in the world.”
That’s not unusual for Tucker, a shortstop from Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix whom the Pirates selected earlier this month in the first round of the amateur draft. He signed his contract Thursday and will fly to Bradenton, Fla., this morning to report to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates.
“He knows this is serious, but he can’t wait to get to it because for him this is fun,” Tucker’s mom, Erin, said.
The slot value for the 24th pick, where the Pirates chose Tucker, was $1,925,500, according to Baseball America. He signed for $1.8 million, according to a report from MLB.com, $125,500 below slot.
Pre-draft publications did not have Tucker ranked as a first-round pick. That partly resulted from his age: He will not turn 18 until July 3. As his father, Jackie, tells it, Tucker started school early.
“He talked so much when he was little, my mom, who takes care of these kids, goes, ‘He’s got to get out of the house,’ ” Jackie Tucker said. “ ‘He needs to go to first grade.’ ”
Tucker’s father played one season of minor league baseball. Erin ran track and played volleyball at the University of Arizona. They have a batting cage at their house.
“It would be 11:30 at night but I would say, ‘Who else is working right now?’ ” Jackie Tucker said. “I would put that in his mind.”
Added Erin: “But it was usually [Cole] asking.”
Tucker grew up with the game, his parents said, asking them to roll him balls as a young child and teaching himself to read from an Arizona Diamondbacks media guide. His high school coach told him to become a switch-hitter three years ago.
“I always had a feeling that I was talented enough and I put in the work to actually do it, but to actually see the paper [contract] in front of you and having my family around me for that moment was something I’ll never forget,” Tucker said.
The Tucker family is friends with former Pirates first baseman Kevin Young, who used to coach Cole, and his double play partner at Mountain Pointe was Brock Bell, Jay Bell’s son. Tucker’s younger brother, Carson, plays on the same baseball team as Pedro Alvarez’s brother-in-law, and Tucker has known Alvarez since 2008.
“He really reached out to me after the draft and said it’s going to be a long grind, there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, but the key through the whole thing is to stay consistent,” Tucker said.
Tucker heard from various teams that he probably wouldn’t make it out of the top 40 in the draft, and once pick No. 22 rolled around, he knew Pittsburgh was his destination. Pirates scouts believed that were Tucker draft-eligible next season, as an 18-year-old, he would be a top-10 pick.
“As the board unraveled, we felt that he was the right pick and we’ve gotten nothing but confirmation after the fact from a handful of clubs that he wouldn’t have gotten to 39,” said Huntington, referring to the Pirates’ competitive balance selection at 39th overall.
The Pirates announced the signings of five draftees Wednesday, eight Thursday and several more have been reported.
The other seven announced Thursday — fourth-round catcher Taylor Gushue, eighth-round right-hander Austin Coley, 16th-round right-hander Sam Street, 18th-round infielder Erik Lunde, 19th-round outfielder Carl Anderson, 28th-round right-hander Nick Neumann and 32nd-round right-hander Montana DuRapau — will report to short-season Jamestown.
A source said late Wednesday night that Coley agreed to a $125,000 bonus, $28,900 below slot value.
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