Thursday, March 15, 2018

Kyle Tucker Needs to Start the Season in the Minors

It’s been easy to identify the star of the Astros Spring Training. He’s starred both off the field
with the “Ted” monicker that has been laid on him by his teammates. And he has starred on the
field, slashing .375/.400/.844 with 4 home runs.

It’s been an impressive performance. And just like everyone else on Astros twitter, I’ve thrilled
watching highlights of Tucker’s homers, both in real time and slowed down.  And like all Astros fans,
I look forward to seeing Tucker starting in the outfield in Minute Maid Park.

The Astros have already said that won’t happen this April. On March 1, AJ Hinch said "[Tucker’s]
contribution at the major league level will come at some point, if he continues to progress, but it's
not going to come at the end of this month. No matter what he does, we don't feel like it's in the best
interest for him."

I agree with this decision. Tucker still has things to learn in the minors, and Astros fan should want
him to start the season in Corpus Christi.

The biggest reason that Tucker should start the season in the minors is his performance in AA in 2017.
Tucker was very good for the Corpus Christi Hooks, but did not dominate that circuit.

Last season, Tucker started the season at Buies Creek, where he was excellent.. In 206 plate
appearances in the Carolina League, Tucker slashed .288/.379/.554 with 25 extra base hits. These
numbers were good for a wOBA of .410 and a wRC+ of 159.   This is domination, and Tucker
deservedly earned a callup to to Corpus Christi.

There, Tucker was very good. He slashed .265/.325/.512, highlighted by 16 home runs. These are
impressive numbers, but not as good as the ones he showed in Buies Creek. His wOBA slipped to
.368 and his wRC+ was 129.  These are outstanding numbers, especially for a 20 year-old who is
4 years younger than the median player in the league.

What does Tucker need to work on?  His control of the strike zone. At Buies Creek Tucker walked
24 times in 206 PAs for a walk rate of 11.7% His walk rate declined at the AA level to 6.7%,
substantially lower. Tucker’s OBP dipped from .379 to .325. Tucker struck out a good bit last season,
whiffing 21.8% of the time in the Carolina League, and 20.1% of the time in the Texas League.
Combined, these data show that Tucker has trouble controlling the plate as a batter, an essential skill
for any hitter.

Fast forward to this spring, The good news is that Tucker is hitting the ball frequently (.375 BA) and
hard (6 of his 12 hits have been for extra bases). The bad news is that he still is not walking. Tucker
has only 2 walks in 35 PAs, for a walk rate of 5.7%. Simple put, Tucker needs to walk more.

Tucker is hitting .375 this Spring, and if he hits .375 in the majors, we don’t have to worry about his
walk rate. But if Tucker hits .375 in the majors, he will eventually break Ty Cobb’s record for the best
batting average in history. I think highly of Tucker, but that’s going a little too far. So if we make the
safe assumption that Tucker’s batting average is going to be lower than .375, he needs to work on his strike
zone judgment.

AJ Hinch also provided more detail about the team’s concerns about Tucker’s command of the strike
zone. He's got a good swing and he does some damage. The next step in development for him is to
make sure that he picks the right pitches to swing at. Some of that is knowing strikes versus balls, but
some of that is knowing what strikes he needs to attack early in counts and how to defend himself
with two strikes."

Tucker is close to being major league ready. He has the power, the speed, and the defensive ability to
be an impact player in the big leagues. But the most important skill for a big league batter is to control
the strike zone.  Tucker needs more time at Corpus Christi or Fresno to develop that skill of his before
he is brought up to play in the Astros outfield.