In the surprise move of the first round of the MLB first-player draft on Thursday evening, Mountain Pointe product Cole Tucker was taken No. 24 overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The shortstop has been on a rise ever since helping team USA U18 squad to the gold medal in Taiwan when his approach to the game won over coaches and scouts.
“I think just being a student of the game is just something that gives me an upper leg on guys," he said in a conference call. "I watch tendencies. I see what guys do. I feel like I read hitters and pitches. I kind of know what’s coming. I feel like I have good baseball instincts that helps me with that."
The 6-3, 175-pounder is considered a pro ready defender with his range and arm along along with having a quick quick bat.
"Despite being 6-3, we think he’s a quality athlete," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "We like his first-step quickness. We like his range, his fluidity. We obviously like the arm to be able to stay at shortstop. And again, we think we’ve got a 17-year-old that’s just beginning to grow into his body, and is going to only get better and better as he matures and ages and gets into our development system and gets going.”
Tucker, who was the 13th Arizona high school player picked in the first round since 1965, hit .400 (34 for 85) with 30 runs, eight doubles, four triples, five home runs, 30 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in as many attempts as a senior.
The defense had never been questioned by the scouts, but some did have trouble projecting his bat to the professional level.
The Pirates feel it will come with maturity.
“We obviously love the defense," Huntington said. "But we like the way the swing works. We think the young man’s got a frame to add strength to it. His bat has really come on over the past 12 months. Sometimes the challenge is, everyone is in the same draft pool, but there’s 19-year-old high school guys, there’s 17-year-old high school guys, and then there’s the average age of 18.
"And Cole is a guy who, age-wise, is really a year behind most in the draft class. We really like the advancement in the strength. We like the advancement in the bat in the last year. And again, we think he’s just scratching the surface of what he can be offensively, as well as athletically and defensively.”
The 24th overall pick is slotted to make $1,925,500.
But watching him play, observers get the feeling he'd play the game for free.
It's one of the attributes that caught everyone's eye, especially USA baseball coach Rob Cooper.
“The coach pulled me off to the side and said he really enjoyed watching the approach I had for the game,” Tucker said after he made the cut from 144 to 20. “He said I played the game the right way, smiled and not many (in camp) showed that type of attitude. He said he looked forward to me making the team and winning a gold medal together."
Now, Tucker will be taking that approach to the Pirates organization.
It will be criticized at the start - he was projected anywhere between 60 and 89 overall by various draft experts - but seeing the way he plays the game, and the instincts he has tends to win everyone over.
"I wasn’t [surprised] really," Tucker said of being taken by the Pirates. "I knew the Pirates had a lot of interest, coming into this season, into the draft. The scouting department has been great, and let me know what they think and where they value me. It was cool to see it happen.
"I knew I was in the running to be a Pirate, and I was excited because it’s such an awesome organization. I think it’s a great place to play. I hear nothing but great things about the Pirates’ organization. I’m stoked to be a part of it.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.