Cole Tucker used to daydream while looking out the window during the car ride to baseball practice.
His 10-year-old mind saw him becoming a professional player, making it to the Major Leagues, and he did it all while wearing a Pirates uniform.
It’s about to become a reality.
The Mountain Pointe (Phoenix) product leaves for Pittsburgh on Thursday after the Pirates selected him No. 24 overall last week in the first round of the MLB Draft.
Tucker will report to Bradenton, Florida, to begin
his professional career.
“I can’t believe it all came together the way it did,” he said. “I grew up playing on the Pirates in the Little League for like three or four years. Now I am about ready to leave to take my physical and fill out all of the paperwork.”
Tucker, a switch-hitting, slick-fielding shortstop, was one of many ballplayers from Arizona taken during the three-day draft last week as the Grand Canyon State once again showed its vast talent on the diamond. Arizona had 37 players, including 12 out of high school, taken in the 40 rounds.
The next player selected was recent Brophy College Prep (Phoenix) graduate Ryan Castellani, who was taken in the second round (48th overall) by the Rockies as a right-handed pitcher who has good sink and touches 93 mph on the radar gun.
“Right when ‘with the 48th pick’ is being said, the Rockies begin calling, and then I see my name,” Castellani told MLB.com. “It was like five hours of waiting for a minute and a half to change my life.”
“Something I’ve dreamed about is to be in the Major Leagues,” Verdugo told the Arizona Daily Star. “Just to know that I’m on my way there and I’m taking the right steps forward to get there just drives me insane thinking about it.”
After six college players with Arizona ties were selected, round 11 saw two more Arizona prep players picked, as 6-foot-6 Mountain View (Mesa) righthander Spencer Moran was selected by Tampa Bay at No. 337 overall, and Cienega (Vail) right-handed pitcher Luis Gamez was picked by Atlanta at No. 343.
Pinnacle (Phoenix) outfielder Gerard Hernandez (Diamondbacks, Round 21, No. 630 overall), Cienega right-handed pitcher Andre Jackson (Rangers, 32, 966), Mesquite (Gilbert) right-handed pitcher James Harrington (Phillies, 33, 982), outfielder Hunter Bross of Notre Dame Prep (Scottsdale) (Dodgers, 34, 1,029), Zach Taylor of Horizon (Scottsdale) (Giants, 36, 1,078), Mountain View (Mesa, Ariz.) righthander Kyler Kocher (Dodgers, 36, 1,089) and Greenway (Phoenix) second baseman Payton Squier (A’s, 39, 1,182) were also drafted.
Tucker was the 13th Arizona product to be taken in the first round since 1965. He is just 17 and the Pirates feel like there is a lot of room to grow on his 6-3, 175-pound frame.
Scouts love the way Tucker approaches the game,
and that played a role in his high draft spot.
“Despite being 6-3, we think he’s a quality athlete,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said on a conference call. “We like his first-step quickness. We like his range, his fluidity. We obviously like the arm to be able to stay at shortstop. And again, we think we’ve got a 17-year-old that’s just beginning to grow into his body, and is going to only get better and better as he matures and ages and gets into our development system and gets going.”
Tucker, who hit .400 (34-for-85) with 30 runs, eight doubles, four triples, five home runs, 30 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in as many attempts as a senior, plays the game with passion and is considered a great teammate. His approach was cited as a reason he was selected to the U.S. National Team and why many of the scouts turned in their reports with a positive take on Tucker.
And it is something Tucker plans on continuing once he reports to Bradenton, Florida, to get his playing career started.
“My approach gives me an opportunity because people like the way I play,” Tucker said. “It helps me as a player. It makes me more effective on both sides of the ball. I think it gives me a leg up on people and there is no reason to change it now.”
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothill News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-272-2449.