By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. — Curve shortstop Cole Tucker got a taste of big-league spring training this year, and he liked it.
Considered by most Pittsburgh followers as the Pirates’ shortstop of the future, Tucker, who will be 22 in July, played in several Grapefruit League exhibition games with the big club in Florida in March and was impressed with the experience.
“I was up there for a minute and made it through the first cut,” Tucker said recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “I wasn’t really expecting it but, just to go up there and learn from the big-league staff and players … the environment was special and exciting.”
Tucker, an Arizona native who was drafted in the first round by the Pirates out of Mountain Pointe High School as a 17-year-old in 2014, stayed close to Jordy Mercer and Sean Rodriguez during his time with the big club.
“I learned from Sean and Jordy every day,” Tucker said. “They’re great guys, great baseball players, great people.
“I talked to Jordy about what he was like at my age,” Tucker continued. “He talked about the importance of being calm and how important it is for your game, making routine plays or extraordinary plays or just having an even keel out there.”
Rodriguez, the Bucs’ utility super sub, also was especially helpful to Tucker.
“Sean talked about everything,” Tucker noted. “He’s been through lot of adversity with injuries and everything the game has thrown at him, and he’s handled it really well.
“It was special and I keep in touch with them,” Tucker said. “They’re both great guys and I would love to play with them someday.”
Tucker was a pro at 17 and he’s had an exciting couple of years, sprinkled with success and championships along the way.
“It was nuts and extremely exciting,” he said of his start with the Gulf Coast League Pirates. “It was scary. I was 17, skinny and didn’t know what I was doing.
“The only way to get better is through repetition and that experience was huge for me. I would be in my senior year of college now and I like to think I’ve had lot of base experiences on my way up.”
After the GCL, Tucker went to West Virginia, then Bradenton and then to Altoona last July. He suffered a broken hand in the second game of the Eastern League semifinal playoffs with Bowie that ended his season in 2017.
“It was tough, but I got to be here for the celebrations,” he said. “I was hot and playing well and wanted to help, but it was great to be here and hoist the trophy.”
Tucker is back with the Curve to begin the 2018 season and he helped the club to a fast start.
“I’m batting leadoff and I love it,” he said. “I usually get five at-bats. I like to set the tone, get on base, score and be the energy guy.”
Curve manager Michael Ryan knows Tucker well, having managed him at both Bradenton and Altoona.
“He’s a leader and a really good player, with good tools,” Ryan said. “I hope he gets a chance to play in the majors and is there a long time.
“The leadership he brings to a clubhouse is very valuable,” Ryan said. “He’s a great individual and the kind of guy you root for.”