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Top pick Tucker eager to get to work after signing

High school shortstop, taken No. 24 overall, to begin pro career in Gulf Coast League

PITTSBURGH -- Cole Tucker got the full first-round pick treatment from the Pirates on Thursday.

Tucker dined with general manager Neal Huntington, met manager Clint Hurdle and reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner Andrew McCutchen and made a few pen strokes worth $1.8 million.

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It was the 17-year-old's dream playing out in front of him. But in his first visit to PNC Park, Tucker realized he didn't have to look any further for his next big goal.

"I have a chance to make this my office one day," Tucker said.

Tucker, the 24th overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, officially signed with the Pirates on Thursday, and the team announced he will begin his professional journey in the Gulf Coast League. The high school shortstop from Arizona was presented with a Pirates uniform and hat at a news conference.

Despite his roots, Tucker was somewhat familiar with the black and gold even before the Draft.

One of the many people who reached out to Tucker after he was selected was Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez. Tucker (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) said he and Alvarez -- a Pirates' first-round pick in 2008 -- have been friends for a few years, as Alvarez's brother-in-law played baseball with Tucker's younger brother. Tucker added that former Pirates first baseman Kevin Young is also a family friend.

"I've always had ties to them," Tucker said. "I'm just a baseball junkie -- I can go watch a big league game, a little league game, it doesn't matter to me. I've always had interest in the Pirates, and it's really cool to put this uniform on and be a part of the organization."

Tucker said he knew the Pirates had an interest in him, but it wasn't until two picks before he was drafted that he knew the club was going to call his name.

"I was hearing good things throughout the day that I was going to go in the first 40 picks, probably," said Tucker, who handled his first Pittsburgh news conference like a Major League veteran. "But I knew at pick 22 that it was going to be Pittsburgh for me. I was jumping up and down, screaming, shouting -- you name it. ... I just kind of went numb."

On the field, Tucker hit .404 with five homers, 30 RBIs and 13 steals in his senior season at Mountain Pointe High School. He also has international experience, playing for the U.S. under-18 national team in the 2013 World Cup. Playing in Taiwan -- an experience he said taught him "how to live in a hotel" -- Tucker was part of a championship team that downed host Japan, 3-2, in the final.

Taking Tucker that early in the Draft surprised some analysts, but Huntington said the Pirates not only saw a budding skill set, but considerable upside in Tucker.

"[Scouts] knew he was growing, he was getting better, he was developing, he had now skills defensively," Huntington said. "They saw a 17-year-old that is ahead of where most in his class are. They felt if he were being drafted next year, it'd be in the top five or 10 picks in the country."

Tucker is one of 16 Bucs' 2014 Draft picks to have signed with the team so far, and he'll be joined by other younger players in Bradenton, Fla. Tucker said the choice to sign with the Pirates -- instead of attending the University of Arizona, where he signed a letter of intent to play collegiately -- was an easy one. He just wants to play baseball.

Tucker will get to do so professionally for the first time when the Gulf Coast League season starts on June 20. Tucker said he's ready to go to work and see to it that Thursday is not the last time he wears a Pirates jersey at PNC Park.

"I feel like if I want to be a Major Leaguer, I have to improve every aspect of my game," he said. "There's nothing I do right now that is good enough to be out on that field. I need to improve as a hitter, as a student of the game, as a person, as a fielder, a runner. I need to get stronger. I need to do a lot of things so I can put on this uniform every day and play in the big leagues."

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for

Pittsburgh Pirates