30 Players in 30 Days: Preston Tucker
Years from now we may look back on Jeff Luhnow’s first MLB Draft in 2012 as the best in franchise history. First-round picks Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers appear destined for stardom, and most of the next five guys are playing well in the Houston Astros system or were sent to struggling teams before the season or at the trade deadline for major league talent. It was their seventh-round pick, though, a (generously listed) 6’0″ outfielder from the University of Florida who made his major league debut before any of his classmates.
On May 5, George Springer made a spectacular catch against the Texas Rangers after sprinting and crashing into the outfield wall but suffered a concussion in the process. Springer was sent to the 7-day DL under MLB’s concussion protocol, and the Astros selected the contract of Preston Tucker from Triple-A Fresno. Over the first month of his season with Fresno, Tucker hit a gaudy .320/.378/.650 with ten home runs and 32 RBIs – more than enough to warrant an opportunity against MLB pitching.
Tucker made his MLB debut on May 7 against the Angels and recorded his first hit in the 9th inning – a single to right field off of closer Huston Street to tie the game at 2. The young outfielder had a flair for dramatics early on as he recorded his first career home run two weeks later; Tucker was called upon as a pinch-hitter in the top of the 9th inning in Detroit down 4-5 with one out and took Joakim Soria deep to tie it. Tucker finished the month of May with an impressive .306/.377/.516 line and earned more playing time with the Astros.
The success did not continue, though, as Tucker struggled in June with a .189 AVG and .259 OBP as pitchers adjusted to the lefty. Tucker then bounced back with his best month of the season in July, hitting .314/.344/.570 with six home runs. The roller coaster continued for him in August as he hit recorded a .188 OBP in 46 at-bats before getting demoted on Aug. 22 to make room for McCullers.
Tucker did more of the same in his limited plate appearances throughout the rest of the season, but made the Astros ALDS roster and had a few unsuccessful pinch-hit appearances. Overall, his rookie season should be considered a minor success: 98 games with a .243/.297/.437 line in 300 at-bats with 13 home runs and 33 RBIs.
According to Baseball Reference, Tucker performed well in high leverage situations, hitting .333 and slugging .625 with 17 RBIs in 48 at-bats.
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What to expect in 2016
A full season of Tucker’s 2015 statistics would project 21 HRs, 31 2Bs and 55 RBIs, but his low RBI numbers would likely rise over the course of a season. Tucker’s 2016 with the Astros will depend largely on what the team does in the offseason: Will the team re-sign Colby Rasmus or another free agent? It will likely tell fans how much the Astros trust Tucker next season as their left fielder.
At times, he has struggled, but he has a sweet stroke that can provide gap power to all fields. The team likes having their “three centerfielders” outfield, so his main competition for playing time is likely Jake Marisnick. Marisnick showed promise with his bat, but cooled off after a hot April; his defense is what gives him an edge over Tucker.
The Astros could ask Tucker to learn first base over the offseason and convert him to the infield, but with A.J Reed fast approaching his options for starting time may become limited. The left fielder has the power to be a special player in Houston, and I’m sure he would love to play alongside his brother – Astros 2015 first-round pick Kyle Tucker. The team has a good problem on their hands figuring out their outfield and Tucker should be in the mix.