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Bucco Breakfast: How Far Can Cole Tucker’s AFL Performance Propel Him?

Kid is good, and he’s showing it

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Surprise Saguaros at Peoria Javelinas Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Cole Tucker’s performance in the Arizona Fall League has Pittsburgh Pirates fans very excited. What does his fall ball success mean for him going forward?

Welcome to Bucco Breakfast, a new daily morning feature designed to help you through the offseason. Each day we’ll roll out a quick topic designed to spark conversation as well as provide some interesting baseball reading from around the web.

I’m sure you’ve noticed, but the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2014 first round pick is tearing up the Arizona Fall League. Cole Tucker’s current AFL slash line as of this writing — .353/.417/.431 across 51 plate appearances — is a a showstopper. For his efforts, Tucker will be playing in the AFL Fall Stars game this Saturday.

It would be easy to say that Tucker is putting some things together after a so-so year at Double-A Altoona. Is that assumption fair?

To get some help in putting Tucker's AFL into context, I reached out to John Sickles of Minor League Ball. If you’re not familiar, John is a noted prospect watcher who has spent time working at ESPN and as an assistant to none other than Bill James. Since 2005, he has focused his energy on running Minor League Ball, a go-to destination for prospects/minor league talk.

I asked John a few questions over email about how to put Tucker’s performance in perspective as well as what he sees in Tucker going forward. Here now are those questions and answers.

Neal Huntington is a GM who sometimes puts more stock into certain types of innings/PAs/reps/games/other cumulative minor league criteria than others. Do you subscribe to the theory that time spent in leagues such as the AFL mean a bit more? We are talking about ~20 games/80ish PAs after all.

Not directly, no. The level of competition in the AFL varies from year to year...offensive talent is usually impressive but the quality of pitching can vary drastically. A 20-game sample doesn’t mean much under normal conditions and means less under these. I am not saying it is meaningless...AFL performance is a data point that needs to be factored in, but it is about the same as spring training...something to consider, something to look at, but not something that should override a larger sample size. That said, a good performance in the AFL is better than a bad one....but let’s keep in mind that Mike Trout of all people struggled in the AFL.

With Cole Tucker specifically, what has surprised you about his performance in the AFL to date? Did you think it would be this easy for him?

He’s hitting .353 over 12 games. That’s cool, but what I like better is the improved BB/K ratio. That implies excellent command of the strike zone which is something that can hopefully carry over to Triple-A and then the majors. It’s a substantial reduction in strikeout rate compared to what he did in Double-A...again, small sample, but a positive marker.

Many are wondering if Tucker’s game power can grow with the right approach into something of a 25 double, fringe 10 HR hitter-type at the very least. Is that a fair ceiling at this point?

Many players show a power increase as they get into their mid-to-late-20s and I can see something like that happening with Tucker, yes.

Any concerns that the tools he is known for -glove, speed, can continue to play as he advances?

I have no concerns along those lines. . .the speed and defense should carry forward.

So, pump your brakes, Pirates fans. Tucker’s performance in the AFL is something to be excited about, but not too excited. With an expected jump to Triple-A in 2019, we will learn much more about Tucker before he even sniffs MLB.

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