(Blogger’s note: This is the first of what I hope will be an on-going series about some of the players, coaches and managers from opposing teams that come to Hickory. The minor leagues has people with fascinating – ok, they are to me- stories and I hope to highlight one each home series. In the future, I hope this will include a series preview of sorts, but time ran out for this series.)
West Virginia Power’s top prospect according to mlb.com (Pittsburgh Pirates’ No. 9 prospect) is shortstop Cole Tucker, the parent club’s top pick (24th overall) in 2014. The native of Phoenix, Ariz. (Mountain Pointe High) has a slash line of .271/ .302/ .331 in 29 games with four doubles, a homer, nine RBI and 13 runs scored.
The 18-year-old, switch-hitting, shortstop has quickly taken to pro ball nearly a year after his high-school graduation.
“Making the jump from high school is a definite leap playing at a different level day in and day out. I’m feeling pretty well,” said Tucker. “I feel like I’m handling it well. I’m learning what I can from the different coaches and coordinators and the other guys. I’m just trying to be a sponge and soak up all of the information that I can. Being in pro ball, you’ve got to play at such a high level every day and I’m definitely getting used to it.”
Tucker has shown a good knack for making contact, fanning only 19 times in 129 plate appearances. One of the adjustments he says he’s had to make is simply seeing high-velocity pitchers on a day-to-day basis.
“In high school you might see a guy that throws 90 miles an hour maybe once a year,” Tucker said. “Now, you’re seeing it every day. Just playing at such a high level with such a level of intensity every day, it’s a big step up from high school, but, I’m getting used to it. I feel like I’m handling it well and I definitely feel like I belong here.
Tucker has a connection with two of the current Crawdads on the roster. He was a roommate with Josh Morgan during tryouts for USA baseball in Cary, NC two years ago.
“Josh is a great dude on and off the field,” said Tucker. “He plays hard. He plays the game the right way.”
He also has a shared connection with Hickory starter Luis Ortiz, who Tucker is scheduled to face on Wednesday. Tucker and Ortiz were a part of USA Baseball’s 18 & Under squad that won a gold medal at the Baseball World Cup in Taiwan in 2013.
Tucker said, “He’s (Ortiz) a great pitcher and he’s a good guy to know and a good teammate to be around. I can’t wait to see him and catch up with him when we get to Hickory.”
The experience that the two of them had halfway around the world was an experience that Tucker has left memories for a lifetime.
“Culturally, it was incredible,” said Tucker. “I mean getting to go to Asia and playing baseball against kids from all over the world. Just really getting to represent the United States was something that I’ll never forget. It’s something that I hope I get a chance to again one day, again. Just really getting close with that group of 19 other guys and that coaching staff and representing an organization as great as USA baseball was something that I’m grateful for. We still talk about it and think about it all the time. Going over there and winning gold was incredible.”
(Thanks to WV Power Media Relations Assistant Mike Baggerman for lineup interviews for this story. Also, thanks to Pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas, who was my original interviewee, but my recorder had other ideas.)