At 5-7, Jonathan Tucker has had an uphill battle trying to get scouts to take him seriously.
"I've been pretty small, pretty undersized my entire life, so it's not anything I look at as a disadvantage," Tucker told Inside The Warehouse. "I just feel that it's the way God made me and what I lack in height, I make up for in other aspects of the game. I just try to work on things and play the game to my strengths. I don't think about [my size]. The pitcher still has to throw the ball over the plate and I still have to hit it."
Having had the opportunity to watch Tucker play every day, Keys' Manager Tommy Thompson is not shy about his praise for the 23 year old drafted in the 20th round of the 2004 draft.
"He plays big," explained Thompson. "Tuck's a gamer, he's a dirt dog. If you're in a war, you want Jonathan Tucker in your cubby hole; I'm going to tell you that right now. He's a battler from start to finish. He comes out to win, he competes, and he works hard in practice. Here's a guy that can play center, right, left, any infield position. He can steal a base, he can bunt. He's a perfect utility type guy in the major leagues if he doesn't play one set position. He's a great guy ion the clubhouse. He's a leader. He's a leader in the clubhouse and he's a leader with his actions on the field. You'd love to surround yourself with nine Jonathan Tuckers."
Batting second for the Keys, Tucker has posted a .277/.373/.330 batting line to go along with 11 stolen bases. He has seen the bulk of his playing time at second base, though he has seen some time at shortstop, left field, and center field.
"I grew up playing shortstop my whole life and, now, I've been playing second base for quite some time. The most comfortable, I would say, is second base, but I enjoy playing everywhere. I understand that not a lot of other guys get the opportunities to play other positions and I like getting different looks. It keeps me excited and keeps me working on things."
With success, comes confidence. And Jonathan Tucker is proving that he is not intimidated by the level of play in the Carolina League.
"Last year, I started off in extended [spring training]. I went to Delmarva and, after about a month and a half, I went to High-A. I didn't see that much of a difference. I saw that pitchers had a better command for their fastball. It wasn't like what you would think- like a huge velocity change or speed difference. I felt like it was pretty much the same game, but that the pitchers really came at you with their fastballs."
Despite an advanced approach and plenty of skills that make him attractive as a future role-player, Tucker is focused on getting better.
"I just want to continue improving- improving at short, improving at second, improving in center, left, and stick to my game. As long as I don't get outside of my game, I feel that I have a pretty good chance to be successful."
Success is never guaranteed, but Tucker has a long track record of defying the odds.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com