Before reassignment, Pirates' Meadows, Tucker 'get to feel like they belong'
BRADENTON, Fla. — Before he was sent to minor-league camp Monday — less of a demotion than a necessary step in his big-league development — shortstop Cole Tucker made himself a promise.
Tucker, the Pirates' No. 1 draft choice in 2014, has met and spoken with all the great shortstops of recent MLB vintage.
"Vizquel, Reyes, Tulowitzki, Machado," he said. "Everyone you can name."
"I haven't gotten around to meeting (Derek) Jeter yet," he said of the future Yankees Hall of Famer and current Miami Marlins CEO. "I will one day, though. When I'm in the big leagues playing the Marlins, I'll run up to his box."
In the meantime, Tucker, 21, outfielder Austin Meadows, the Pirates' 2013 No. 1 draft choice, and six other hopefuls were reassigned. Meadows (No. 2) and Tucker (No. 4) are two of the Pirates' top four prospects, according to baseballprospectus.com.
Also reassigned were pitchers Clay Holmes and Jack Leathersich, who will join Meadows in Class AAA Indianapolis. Outfielders Jason Martin and Bryan Reynolds, catcher Christian Kelly and pitcher Damien Magnifico could end up in Class AA Altoona. Martin and Reynolds were the returns in the Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen trades.
None of the moves that reduced the Pirates roster to 53 players was unexpected. General manager Neal Huntington, however, said Meadows' major-league future is "closer than it's been in the past."
After an injury-plagued 2017 season, Meadows, 22, is 7 for 19 this spring, with eight RBIs, two doubles, a triple and home run.
"He played like a baseball player," Huntington said. "He was loose. He was free. He was athletic. Obviously had good results, moved around the field, showed us why we're excited about what he can become in the future.
"Get him out to AAA, get him some at-bats, get him some confidence, let him learn some things at that level and prepare himself to come help us win games in Pittsburgh."
A day before he was optioned to Indianapolis, Meadows said he understood what it takes to get the big leagues.
"They'll get me up there when the time is needed and, hopefully, when I'm up there, I'm there to stay and I'll be a big part of the franchise.
"You can't just jump right into the big leagues. If you jump into the big leagues, you'll probably hit a failure point and you probably won't know how to handle it as well.
"I'm just going to keep working every day. Go out there every day and take care of myself, take care of my play, most importantly, take care of my body. I know that when I'm healthy good things can happen."
Tucker, drafted as a 17-year-old straight out of high school, also believes in the slow process of building a major-leaguer.
"There's something cool about putting on your cleats and working hard every day and putting in time over the years and ultimately getting to where we need to be, and that's the big leagues," he said a day before the roster moves. "And that will happen. It just takes a little longer for us, guys like me and Meadows."
While at LECOM Park, Tucker built a strong bond with veteran Sean Rodriguez, who became a mentor to the point where they talked almost every day about baseball and life in general.
"Maybe it's something that comes naturally for me," Rodriguez said. "I got four kids."
"I want to learn from him," Tucker said, "and learn how to be that guy when I do get here and I am him and I am 30-something years old, I want to be a player like that, that everybody in this locker room respects."
Huntington said that experience is valuable for young players.
"They get to see major-league pitching. They get to see major-league players they've admired from afar," he said. "They get to see the speed of the game, feel the speed of the game. They get to feel like they belong."
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.