Houston Astros outfielder Preston Tucker started to make a name for himself in 2015.
For the first time in what seems like many moons, the Houston Astros finally have some tough roster decisions in the near future. The days of signing retreads to help fill in the 25, heck, even the 40-man roster appear to be over. There are going to be some good players left off the 25-man roster. One name on the roster bubble is none other than the big brother of 2015 draftee Kyle Tucker, Preston Tucker.
Tucker, a former seventh-round pick, got his first taste of the big leagues in 2015 as he appeared in 98 games for the Astros. In his debut season, the former Florida Gator demonstrated with the bat why he was considered one of the organization’s more promising prospects. And while there were times he struggled against major league pitching, he manages to step up in big moments. One example of this was Tucker’s home run that traveled an impressive 431 feet and had an exit velocity of 108.9 MPH against the Los Angeles Angels during the heart of the playoff race back in September.
Regardless of what he did last season, Tucker will have to put together a solid spring to stay on the Astros 25-man roster. The competition for the two backup outfield spots figure to be stiff with Jake Marisnick, Andrew Aplin, Jon Kemmer, Derek Fisher, Tony Kemp, and Eury Perez also vying for the same roster spots. And with success coming to the Astros earlier than anticipated then it is expected that each member of the active roster will have to contribute right away. So in other words, no stragglers will be allowed to drag the team down with them, unlike past years.
But there isn’t any reason to expect Tucker to be a straggler in 2016. Not only did he provide some pop for the Astros in 2015 (13 HR, .178 ISO), he also represents part of the vaunted youth movement that everyone has been anxiously waiting for since Jeff Luhnow took over as the general manager. Baseball-Reference currently projects Tucker to hit 13 HR and 39 RBI in 331 at-bats, which seems to indicate a similar role like the one he held last season. Fangraphs Steamer projections actually project even fewer at-bats (264) for the former Gator. So there seems to be different schools of thought regarding Tucker’s usage at the major league level next season. But even the Steamer’s projections have the outfielder hitting 10 HR and 33 RBI, which are similar to the Baseball-Reference numbers.
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Those type projections are perfectly acceptable for the part-time role Tucker is currently expected to be placed in if/when he is part of the major league roster. But don’t forget that while he hits right-handers well (.347 wOBA, 120 wRC+), he also struggled mightily against left-handers (.210 wOBA, 25 wRC+). The left-handed split will need to improve for Tucker to see more playing time at the major league level in 2016.
However, Tucker’s actual position is the big elephant in the room. As it stands now, the Astros outfield position group with George Springer, Carlos Gomez, and Colby Rasmus remains one of the club’s strengths. Defensive whiz Jake Marisnick is considered the first outfielder off the bench concerning defense. And if healthy, Astros manager A.J. Hinch won’t have to worry much about switching out his outfield. Designated hitter could be an option if Evan Gattis weren’t already entrenched there. The only position remaining that would be somewhat viable is first base. But again, there are plenty of players battling for that job as well. Don’t forget that Tucker struggles against lefties, and Jon Singleton and Luis Valbuena are also left-handed hitters so a platoon situation would not be a realistic option.
Regardless, Tucker can be a key contributor to the Astros in 2016. Not only did he gain valuable experience last season in the middle of a playoff race, but he did also show signs of growth. And even though defense isn’t his forte, Tucker’s bat should carry him on the 25-man roster. The Astros will probably need to carry five outfielders when considering how injury prone Springer, Gomez, and Rasmus can be. And with the versatility of the outfield then moving Tucker to left field shouldn’t be an issue. Then there is the possibility of being an insurance policy at first base if the Astros other plans for the position falls through. The same can be said for designated hitter.
All in all, we don’t know for sure how the spring will shake out for eldest Tucker brother. He clearly has the edge, but you never know 100% in baseball. It’s a funny sport. But odds are we will see him in an Astros uniform come Opening Day.
**Statistics are provided by Fangraphs & Baseball-Reference**