With their top selection in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, the Pirates on Thursday night selected Cole Tucker, an Arizona high school shortstop, at No. 24.
The choice of Tucker, from Mountain Pointe High School, was a major surprise to most Draft analysts, who had Tucker rated in the low end of the nation's top prospects.
But not to Tucker himself. The impressively introspective and confident 17-year-old not only anticipated the Pirates' pick, but doesn't think it will take long to pay off.
"I knew they had a lot of interest. The scouting department has been great about staying in touch with me," Tucker said on a brief conference call with reporters. "I'm excited. I heard it's a great place to play, and I'm stoked to be a part of it.
"Shortstop really is all I've known," Tucker added. "I think I can play shortstop in the big leagues. I feel like it's my best position on the field, and look forward to playing for the Pirates in the big leagues soon."
The consensus had Tucker rated lower than the Bucs' two ensuing Draft turns, at Nos. 39 and 64.
However, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington scoffed at the notion they could have held off on Tucker's selection.
"We didn't think he would get to us at 39," Huntington said. "We felt he was the best player available on our board. With all due respect to the experts … these are young men we are betting on, on their characteristics, work ethic -- as well as what you can see with your eyes."
Or, your ears.
The son of John Tucker, who played his way into the Florida High School Hall of Fame as a shortstop in Melbourne, Cole Tucker has a mature approach to excelling at baseball.
"Repetition ... that's the key to anything in life," he said. "My dad always told me, 'If you take enough ground balls and work hard enough, you can be a Major League shortstop.' Scouts were always saying about me, 'Great athlete. Great kid. But can he hit?' I've worked hard to get my offense to catch up to my defense."
Tucker is the first shortstop to become the Pirates' highest Draft choice since 1995, when they selected Chad Hermensen, also a prep player from Nevada who became a career Minor Leaguer, playing 13 years with five different organizations.
Tucker was recently rated as the second-best high school player in the talent-rich state of Arizona.
Tucker is a lightweight (6-foot-3, 165 pounds) switch-hitter whose major tools are speed and defensive athleticism. He starred on the 18-and-under U.S. National Team that won the World Cup with a 3-2 win over Japan in Taiwan in September.
"One of the coolest things I've ever done," he said of that experience. "to jump into that atmosphere, and to be looked on as a leader-type player. The way I play and carry myself, I think my teammates can learn from that and maybe look up to it."
Tucker batted .404 as a senior this season, with 13 stolen bases and 30 RBIs.
"His upside is just starting to be scratched," Huntington said. "We've watched him a long time. We like his range, his fluidity. As a 17-year-old, he is just beginning to grow into his body."
Tucker turns 18 in a month and has committed to the University of Arizona, but his unexpectedly-high Draft selection is likely to keep him off campus. The Pirates' bonus slot at No. 24 is valued at $1,925,500.
"Our expectations are that Cole is ready to take this next step, and start riding some buses," said Huntington, referring to the chief Minor League means of transportation. "We still have the challenge of going through the negotiating process."
Tucker's selection at No. 24 matched the lowest first pick the Pirates have ever had in the First-Year Player Draft, in its 50th year. The Bucs' lowest selection was also at No. 24 in 1973 and 1991, but they have never gotten in on the action later.
The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com pregame show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 1p.m. ET.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less