Pirates take a high school shortstop from Phoenix as top pick

| Thursday, June 5, 2014, 10:03 p.m.

The Pirates dropped a draft-day surprise Thursday when they used their first-round pick on high school shortstop Cole Tucker.

Tucker, a switch-hitter, hit .404 (34 for 84) with eight doubles, four triples, five home runs, 30 RBIs and 13 stolen bases this past season, and also was a member of the 2013 USA Baseball 18U national team that won the 2013 World Cup in Taiwan last September.

Baseball America had Tucker, a product of Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, ranked 84th overall, while MLB.com had him ranked 67th. The Pirates picked him 24th overall.

General manager Neal Huntington defended the pick. He said the Pirates believe Tucker, 17, is just starting to come into his own and has tremendous potential for growth.

“We felt he was the right player and the best player available for us on our board,” said Huntington, adding they didn't think Tucker would be available when they made their next pick at No. 39 in the competitive balance “A” round. “We talked repeatedly about drafting the best available player in our minds. It doesn't always line up with the external voices, but in our minds, this was the best guy on the board.”

Tucker said he wasn't surprised to hear his name called.

“I knew the Pirates had a lot of interest coming into the draft,” he said. “The scouting department was great letting me know what they were thinking. It was cool to see it happen, though. I knew I was in the running to be a Pirate, and I'm excited to become part of an awesome organization. I know nothing but great things about the Pirates organization, and I'm stoked to be a part of it.”

Huntington said they didn't draft Tucker specifically because he's a shortstop but said it's a nice benefit that the player they liked most plays a position where they are thin.

Shortstop is in Tucker's blood. His father, John, was a shortstop who played professionally and is a member of the Florida High School Baseball Hall of Fame.

“(Playing shortstop) is really all I've known, and it's all I want to know,” Tucker said. “I think I can play in the big leagues one of these days.”

No. 39 pick

The Pirates' 39th pick in the Competitive Balance A round, gained through their recent trade with the Miami Marlins for reliever Bryan Morris, went to San Diego catcher Connor Joe, a 6-0, 205-pound junior.

Huntington praised Joe's offense, and said that while he has the ability to play catcher, first base and right field, they envision starting him in right field. Joe played first base his first two years in college

Baseball America had Joe ranked the 102nd player in the draft. MLB.com had him ranked 110th and said, “Joe's value obviously is higher if he's behind the plate, and the team that believes he can develop there will take him in the first few rounds.”

Joe, who hits right-handed, hit .367 with 21 doubles, two triples and led San Diego with nine home runs and 51 RBI in 53 games this year.

Said Huntingon: “He has a good swing, drives the ball gap to gap, commands the zone and makes consistent, hard contact. We got an accomplished college bat at 39.”

No. 64 pick

In the second round, at No. 64 overall, the Pirates took right-hander Mitch Keller out of Xavier High School in Iowa. Keller was ranked 69th overall by MLB.com and 76th by Baseball America.

The 6-3, 195-pound Keller was 5-5 with a 1.72 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 69 13 innings for Xavier this year and had a fastball clocked at 95 mph at the Perfect Game USA Pre-Draft Showcase in Cedar Rapids last month.

“Mitch Keller has a high ceiling,” Huntington said. “We like the frame and the quality of his pitches. He has a good fastball and the makings of a good breaking ball and changeup, and he fits into the mold we've liked in the past where the guy has upside and a good, quality frame to build on.”

Keller is committed to North Carolina and was quoted in one Iowa publication saying that the money would have to be right to turn pro because North Carolina has such a good program. His brother, Jon Keller, was the top pitching prospect in Iowa in 2010 and was drafted by the Mariners in the 11th round. He opted to go to college and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 22nd round in 2013. He is now pitching in their Class-A affiliate.

No. 73 pick

With their final pick of the night, the Pirates drafted another high school right-hander in the Competitive Balance B round, taking Trey Supak with the 73rd pick in the draft. Supak, a 6-5, 210-pound righty out of La Grange High School (Texas) who just turned 18 on May 31, throws 88-92 mph and has three solid or better pitches, according to MLB.com 's scouting report.

“He has a large frame, very similar to Keller,” Huntington said. “Good mix of pitches. They're both guys we believe have the makeup to excel at the major league when and if they get there.”

Supak is committed to Houston, where his uncle, Jody, was an All-America pitcher.

Supak went 9-0 as a senior at La Grange, the same high school where Homer Bailey played, and was a member of the 2014 Texas All-Region First Team. He was the No. 62 prospect on MLB.com and ranked No. 99 overall by Baseball America.

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