Wednesday, May 7, 2014

An Interview with Corpus Christi Hooks OF Preston Tucker

I first talked to Preston Tucker last May in Lancaster and saw him again later in the season. I don't know if Preston has changed since we first met or if he just feels more comfortable talking with me ... probably a little bit of both. But I definitely sensed a change in him. When we spoke last weekend in Corpus Christi, I got an impression of confidence that I hadn't seen before, a sense that he belongs and he knows that he belongs. Not cockiness by any stretch of the imagination. Just quiet confidence.

Preston Tucker - April 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Jeff Albert, the Astros Minor League Hitting Coordinator, was also in Corpus Christi last weekend. I spoke with him briefly about Tucker and Andrew Aplin. The thing that stands out for Albert is that, although Tucker and Aplin have both had some pretty good success so far, neither player is content to rest on their laurels. They are both very hard workers and are always striving to improve.

I also talked with Corpus Christi Hooks Manager Keith Bodie about Tucker. "Very, very, very big bat potential in the middle of the line-up. Hits the ball as hard as any human being I've seen in a long time. His defense has improved tremendously. Very conscientious. Just needs to continue to play and hone his swing and his plate discipline, and swing at pitches early in the count that he can drive.

"I see Tino Martinez in his swing when he swings. For a left-handed hitter, he's not your typical low ball hitter. His bat stays in the zone for a long time. He's got a flat swing. That's why he runs into a lot of balls and he doesn't swing and miss a lot. He only misses when he overswings occasionally, but he's pretty good."

I asked Tucker what he felt like he had accomplished since he first got promoted to Corpus Christi at the end of June last year. "It's just the little things. It's not like I've changed my swing. It's not like I'm trying to do a whole lot different than I did last year. Just trying to barrel balls up really. I think I had some success last year. Obviously, I wasn't putting everything together mechanically and [in my] approach. So I'm just trying to work on different things on my approach, just shorten up my swing and just try to have a better approach in general. Just shortening up and trying to barrel everything up instead of trying to hit a home run every time."

In response to my question about the differences for him as a hitter between Lancaster and Corpus Christi, Tucker responded, "Obviously, the pitching's better. The [Corpus Christi] park is not favorable to lefties either, which actually I kind of like because it makes me use more of a middle of the field approach rather than just dead pull which sometimes I'd get away with at Lancaster, but which didn't really help me down the road. This league, in general, the pitching's really good. The ballparks aren't particularly hitters' ballparks either. It really makes you want to shorten up your swing and really not miss mistakes when you get them."

I also spoke with Tucker about Astros GM Jeff Luhnow's comparisons of him to St. Louis Cardinal's Allen Craig. "Well, Allen Craig is really good so I like that comparison. I do like that I'm being compared to a big leaguer. That's cool, but I'm not trying to see what someone else does and compare myself to him. I'm just trying to do my own thing and let numbers speak for themselves. But, if the guys in the front office like me, that means I'm going in the right direction so I'm happy with that."

Of the team chemistry in Corpus Christi, Tucker says, "It's awesome. A lot of the guys I played with in Lancaster, a great group of guys. We have a lot of fun. Obviously, playing ball is fun in itself but the way these guys get together ... the team really pulls for each other is the thing. It's not individual like it gets on some teams. Everybody wants everyone else to succeed and we're doing that so far."

What does he like about living in Corpus Christi? "I love my host family. That's one of the big pluses is having a host family. Corpus Christi is a great place to play. I really like the stadium. I really like the fans and that's one of the biggest things is seeing this place almost packed every single night. It's really exciting and something you look forward to about coming to the ballpark every day."

Of the depth and competition for jobs in the Astros minor league system, Tucker told me, "It's something you can't control so it's something you try not to think about. As long as I'm going out there every day and playing, I'm happy whether I'm DH-ing, playing left or right as long as I'm in the line-up. My defense isn't going to be what gets me to the big leagues, but potentially it's going to be my hitting. So long as I'm hitting, I don't care where they put me. I'm hoping I just continue my success and hopefully play outfield the higher up I go."

How is his defense coming along? "It's getting better. It's not where it needs to be. I think there's a lot of areas for improvement, but I think slowly but surely, I'm starting to get the hang of it, both left and right. Before I got to Corpus, I hadn't played any left field ... I played maybe five games at Lancaster ... but I'm starting to get the hang of both positions which is going to be helpful in the long run."

To long-suffering Astros fans, Tucker had this to say, "If you just look at the way all our minor league teams are playing, we're going to have a great ball club. It's not only the next couple years, it's 10 years down the road. We're going to be good. I follow all the full season teams, and up and down the line-up, there is so much depth which is a great thing to have. It's going to be exciting. It's going to be like that in a hurry, too."

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