Monday, September 4, 2017

Getting to Know Astros/Hooks OF Kyle Tucker

I had met Astros top prospect OF Kyle Tucker before, but only recently did I have the chance to sit down and talk with him on a pre-Harvey visit to Corpus Christi. Heading into the final day of the regular season, Tucker has a composite batting line of .272/.345/.522 between his time in Buies Creek (48 games) and Corpus Christi (71 games). He has collected 33 doubles, five triples, 24 home runs, 89 RBI, 21 stolen bases and 69 runs scored.

Kyle Tucker - August 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Before I talked to Tucker, I had already figured out that he is on the quiet side. Since I had interviewed Tucker's older brother, Grizzlies/Astros OF Preston Tucker, a couple of times before, I knew that Preston isn't a big talker either so I asked Kyle who was the more talkative of the two. "Probably my brother," came the answer. The younger Tucker is quiet, but he was very open with me and I enjoyed our conversation.

When asked to give a scouting report on himself at this point in his pro career, Tucker said, "I think the main thing I need to work on is my strike zone. I tend to chase a little bit more than I like. If I can shrink it a little bit more, I think I'd be a lot more productive. I think I barrel balls pretty decently, but obviously with that strike zone being shrunk, I'd be a lot more productive with barreling balls and being able to drive (the balls) a lot more. Defensively, I feel like I'm pretty solid. I can play left, center, right pretty decent. I try to just get the ball in as fast as I can and make some plays."

As far as accomplishments for the season, Tucker told me, "One of my preseason things (was) to get 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases which I've done so I was happy about that. Now that I've done that, I'll try and get 25 and 25 and try to be around that .300 mark for average, kind of just keep setting goals and once you reach them, just keep going higher."

And Tucker is very goal-oriented. "I have goals. I try and just keep my head low, try to get 100 RBIs, 20 home runs, 20/30 stolen bases, just stuff like that which (are) self goals, but with those 100 RBIs, I'll help out the team in doing all that so it works for myself and the team," said Tucker.

Tucker is constantly working to make himself better and, despite being a top prospect, understands that he can learn from his teammates like fellow Hooks outfielders Ramon Laureano and Jason Martin, among others. "I try to go off them and see what they're thinking, try and mix a little of what they have into how I play. [Hooks 1B Jon] Singleton has a lot of experience and he's a lefty at the plate too. He'll ask me about certain things when I hit before he goes up and we'll kind of talk about how they're pitching us."

As far as getting to that next step in his development, Tucker reiterated the importance of his work toward fine-tuning his strike zone, "Yeah, I think that's the main thing. Once you control the strike zone and stop swinging out of the zone, your walks go up. Instead of chasing that pitch away, you might just take it and wait for a pitch down the middle that you can hit. Your average will go up, and home runs and RBIs and everything will follow." That, plus he will continue to try to add weight to his thin frame during the offseason. Of the 15 to 18 pounds he picked up last winter, he's lost about half of that during the season and will be working to gain that back, plus some. In any event, my urge to tell him to eat a cheeseburger or three has subsided greatly since I first met him last season so he's headed in the right direction.

Of all the Astros minor league pitchers that he's seen in his three years in the system, Tucker picked Forrest Whitley as the one he would least like to face. "I've only seen him pitch twice. I saw him once in Spring Training for a few innings and his one outing (with the Hooks). I was in center so I could see he wasn't missing very often. He did a really good job. His cutter was working. His off speed was good. He kind of kept mixing it up and I think it would be kind of a challenge facing him," said Tucker.

The older Tucker helped pave the way for the younger Tucker in helping him acclimate to minor league baseball after Kyle was drafted in the first round in 2015. "When (Preston) was playing (in Corpus Christi) a few years ago, I came down for a few days with my parents and kind of got to see what the field looked like and how it was to be a minor leaguer. And I saw him when he was in Lancaster and then when they were in Oklahoma City so I kind of saw him at each level and got a little taste of everything so when I got drafted and went to pro ball, I kind of knew what to expect. If I got drafted by another team, I (might) feel a little bit more awkward just because I don't know anything about the organization, but coming with the Astros, a familiar face with him being in it, is awesome."

Since Kyle and Preston play in different time zones, they don't really have the luxury of talking every day, but they're definitely in touch. "I'll snap him every day pretty much. He doesn't really respond. But I'll talk to him every now and then, check in on him," said Kyle. And the possibility of playing with Preston in the majors really appeals to Kyle. "It would be fun. Oh, yeah. 100%. That would be awesome. He actually turned 27 this year so he's about six and a half, seven years older than me so I've never played with him before. I always watched him in high school, watched him in Florida and pro ball. The only game I was on the same team with him was in Spring Training and he came down from big league camp and he just pinch hit. Then, while I was in big league camp, he was on the DL so he was just on the bench with me, but just for that short period of time, it was fun."

My efforts to get to know more about Kyle personally didn't garner much good intell. He's just a guy that likes to play video games and hang out with his friends. And he's really, really good at baseball.

Thank you for your time Kyle and best of luck as your baseball journey continues. And thanks for the great smile!

Trent Woodward and Kyle Tucker - August 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

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