The Pirates have optioned seven players, the team announced on Twitter. They include relief pitchers Geoff Hartlieb, Sam Howard, Edgar Santana and Yacksel Rios, as well as outfielder Jason Martin and third base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes. But the most notable name in the bunch is shortstop Cole Tucker. The 23-year-old had been hitting well in spring training before the league-wide shutdown, putting up a slash line of .296/.387./.667, much better than his 2019 big league output of .211/.266/.361.
Tucker was a well-regarded prospect going into 2019, coming in at #83 on the FanGraphs Top 100 Prospects. He went on to have an up-and-down year, getting called up and making his big league debut on April 20 before being optioned and recalled twice more as the season wore on. He ended up getting into 56 games and producing a lackluster 61 wRC+ at the plate , but balancing that out with solid enough defense at short to break even in the WAR department with 0.0, according to FanGraphs. The numbers at Baseball Reference are slightly kinder, pegging him at 64 OPS+ and 0.2 WAR.
The shortstop position in Pittsburgh is currently occupied by Kevin Newman, who put together a very nice season in 2019, with a wRC+ of 110 and 2.4 fWAR. Erik Gonzalez should be slotted into the backup role, although JT Riddle could also play some shortstop in a pinch. It seems the team thinks the best path forward for Tucker is to get regular playing time in AAA and try to force his way into the picture. “We definitely believe in Cole as an every-day player”, said Pirates general manager Ben Cherington, Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports on Twitter. “He’s young enough where we think he should be playing every day still. Certainly see him contributing at the major league level really soon.”