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Is 2021 a make or break year for Cole Tucker?

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MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Cole Tucker was the first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014. Over parts of the last two seasons with the team, he has struggled mightily at the plate.

In 275 career major league plate appearances, Tucker has hit .215/.260/.324 with three home runs, 13 doubles, and three triples. He has struck out often (25.8 percent) and has not drawn many walks (5.5 percent). In terms of batted balls, well, that hasn’t been great either. Tucker has a career exit velocity of 85.8 mph. His career ground ball rate of 49.2 percent is also high.

With two minor-league options remaining, Tucker may start the 2021 season at AAA. As it currently stands though, the Pirates are short on outfielders. There is a world where Tucker is the team’s Opening Day centerfielder. If current starting second baseman Adam Frazier is traded before the season like many think he will be, Tucker could also get an abundance of major league reps in the middle infield. At any rate, even if he were to start the season at AAA, Tucker will have ample opportunity at the major league level in 2021.

Luckily for him, Tucker does have tools that are valuable to a major league team. One, he’s fast. His sprint speed of 28.5 ft/sec in 2020 put him just below the 90th percentile of all players. Fielding wise, he’s solid. Even though he barely played in the middle infield last season, Tucker has shown to be well above average at both middle infield spots in the past. In centerfield last season, mistakes were made, yes. He was in the 20th percentile when it came to Outs Above Average which is not great. That said, Tucker showed promise being that it was the first time he had ever played the position. According to Baseball Savant, Tucker was in the 64th percentile when it came to Outfielder Jump. Let’s also not forget about his strong throwing arm, which Fangraphs has rated as a 70 on the 20-80 scale. Simply put, I believe that Tucker has the potential to have an above-average glove at six different positions (the three OF spots, 2B, SS, and 3B).

With the overall excellent athleticism that he possesses, Tucker does not have to be a great hitter to be a productive major league player. That said, nobody can survive in this league being as dreadful as he’s shown to be at the plate during his very short time with the Pirates. In 2021, Tucker will need to improve with the bat. End of story. Even if his ceiling is that of just an average hitter, Tucker’s other tools could propel him to being a 2-3 win player. If something clicks and Tucker is somehow above average as a hitter, then he has All-Star potential. There is still plenty of time for him as he will turn 25 this July. That said, if he continues to be as bad as he’s been, this might be it for him.