PITTSBURGH -- When scouts visited Cole Tucker and his family before the 2014 MLB Draft, Carson Tucker would usually sit in on the meetings -- for a couple minutes, at least. Carson was only 12 years old when his big brother was drafted, so it didn’t take much time for those conversations to become boring.
“Those meetings get long,” Carson said, laughing. “So I would just go play ping-pong or video games.”
The tables turned over the past year. When scouts visited the Tucker house last fall and winter, they were there to talk to Carson, the No. 52 prospect in this year’s Draft class, according to MLB Pipeline.
And this time it’s Cole, the Pirates’ first-round Draft pick six years ago, who is along for the ride as his brother’s sounding board and biggest supporter.
“For the first time in a long time, I’m a baseball fan. Like, Carson Tucker’s my favorite player and I’m rooting for him and pulling for him and following his every move,” Cole said in a phone interview. “I’m just trying to be as much a part of the process as I can and putting my big-brother hat on and also putting my baseball-player hat on, just because I have a lot of experience with the process.”
Granted, this year has brought challenges that even Cole couldn’t have prepared Carson for.
Although Cole climbed up teams’ Draft boards during his senior year, Carson played only three games this spring at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix before the rest of the season was shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. Carson and his classmates had a drive-through graduation. He had in-home scouting visits last fall and winter, but his spring slate looked like that of an office employee working from home: days full of video-conferencing calls.
“It’s so weird. At this time when I was a senior, I graduated and hit the road and went to a bunch of pre-Draft workouts. And he doesn’t have the luxury to do that,” Cole said. “A lot of their stuff is on Zoom and sending video to scouts. It’s a weird time for the world, obviously, and an even weirder time to be breaking into professional baseball.”
But having been through the process with Cole -- and having him around now -- has been a big help for Carson, who is committed to attend the University of Texas if he doesn’t begin his professional career after the Draft. Cole said Carson has “been through it with me every step of the way,” from being drafted in the first round to rising through the Minors to reaching the Majors last year.
“It can be pretty busy and frustrating sometimes with scouts calling you and being busy with that,” Carson said. “But having him and my family -- my family’s been through it, obviously -- work with me definitely helped me through that.”
Clearly, Carson picked up on a thing or two, like how to get more time in front of evaluators. During his senior year, Cole emailed area scouts and cross-checkers to let them know he’d be leaving school early to take batting practice and field grounders before his high school teammates arrived for practice. Last fall, Carson sent a similar email letting teams know he’d be working out every Sunday with Cole and their father, Jackie, hitting and fielding grounders. Scouts showed up, getting in-person looks and recording video they otherwise wouldn’t have.
“I was fortunate to do that,” Carson said, “and lucky.”
“I guess he saw the coronavirus coming,” Cole quipped.
Carson has also been fortunate to keep big league company as a high schooler. Cole seems to know everyone in the baseball world, and his circle of close friends includes fellow Phoenix-area natives Cody Bellinger and Scott Kingery. Cole said they have a group text thread that includes Carson, and they all work out together in the offseason.
“It can help me in the long run and obviously right now, because they’ve been through the Draft process and pro ball and the big leagues, and one of them’s obviously the NL MVP,” Carson said. “It definitely helps having them around.”
Carson said one of the most important things he learned from those players, including Cole, is to “trust yourself and be yourself.” That can be challenging for prospects with baseball bloodlines, however, as it’s hard to make a name for yourself when your last name is already associated with someone else’s accomplishments. He’ll inevitably be compared to Cole, but he wants to create an identity of his own.
“I wanted him to know and feel comfortable with the fact that he’s Carson and I’m Cole, and he’s well aware of that,” Cole said. “He knows who he is and who he wants to be and what kind of player he wants to be. From the get-go, I told him people are going to know you and talk to you because of me and about me, but don’t let that affect your play and your authenticity and your personality, because at the end of the day they want to get to know you, they want to draft you, they want to sign you.
“Everyone had their shot on me back in the day. Now, it’s his turn.”
Of course, it’s hard to resist the obvious similarities. Cole, 23, is a 6-foot-3 switch-hitter with a good glove and good speed who was projected to grow into more power at the plate. Carson, 18, is a 6-foot-2 right-handed hitter with a good glove and good speed who is projected to grow into more power at the plate. They’re both tall, lanky shortstops.
How are they different? Start with their personalities. It’s tough to find a more gregarious and outgoing individual than Cole, so by default, Carson is on the quieter side. Carson said he embraces the idea of being a leader on the field who plays with energy, but Cole agreed that his brother -- friendly and popular as he may be -- is more low-key and cerebral.
“It’s no secret if you watch me play: My arms and legs and my hair are flying all over the place,” Cole said. “With him, it’s a lot more controlled.”
Cole said he’s faster and rangier than his little brother, though he thinks both will stick at shortstop in the Majors. Carson said he’s stronger and “for sure” has a better hit tool than his older brother, a statement that prompted no disagreement from Cole other than this response: “Did he tell you that I’m Mom’s favorite, though?”
Good-natured jokes aside, Carson will have no bigger fan than Cole when the Draft rolls around next week. And like Cole, who was selected 24th overall by the Pirates, Carson could hear his name called on the first day of the Draft.
“The hardest and newest part for me is that I don’t have any say-so or control in how he plays or how he speaks or who he meets and who he talks to,” Cole said. “I can kind of guide him and give him the advice I have, but at the end of the day, this is his career and his life and his decision. I’m letting him take the reins on that and make it his own.”