Kyle Tucker Is About to Make MLB's Most Lethal Offense Flat-out Unfair

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 26: Kyle Tucker #79 of the Houston Astros looks on prior to a Grapefruit League spring training game against the New York Mets at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on February 26, 2018 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Astros won 8-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The rich get richer. So it goes in life; so it (often) goes in baseball.

Take the Houston Astros. They're the defending champions of MLB and still cleaning the champagne and confetti off their uniforms. They boast a roster laden with rising stars. 

They've got diminutive second baseman and reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve. They've got Carlos Correa, one of the leading members of baseball's burgeoning shortstop revolution. They've got center fielder George Springer, third baseman Alex Bregman, left fielder Marwin Gonzalez, first baseman Yuli Gurriel and on and on.

Add it up, and you're looking at the squad that paced MLB in runs, average and OPS in 2017. The young, mashing New York Yankees will command headlines, but the Astros have the Junior Circuit's best offense until further notice. 

Speaking of adding, top position-player prospect Kyle Tucker is charging hard.

WEST PALM BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 26: Kyle Tucker #79 of the Houston Astros hits a two-run home run in the seventh inning of a Grapefruit League spring training game against the New York Mets at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on February 26, 2018 in West P
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The fifth overall pick by Houston out of high school in the 2015 draft, Tucker has 10 hits in his first 25 spring training at-bats, including a double and four home runs, along with 10 RBI. Small-sample caveats and exhibition qualifiers apply, but those are eye-opening numbers.

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Tucker showed it last season, too. He clubbed 25 homers with 90 RBI and 21 stolen bases between High-A and Double-A. The 21-year-old lefty swinger is a rapid riser any way you look at it.

Inject his scintillating mix of power and speed into the Astros lineup, and a group that's already lethal could vault to flat-out unfair.

Let's have a peek at some of Tucker's early pro highlights:

The smooth swing. The easy opposite-field approach. The quiet confidence. Those are the makings of a superlative big league hitter. The 'Stros already have a lot of those, but they could always use one more.

Now it's time for the (temporary) wet blanket.

Tucker is blocked in the Astros outfield by Gonzalez, Springer and Josh Reddick from left to right. He's also yet to test his mettle at Triple-A. Asking him to leapfrog a minor league level only to put him on the bench doesn't make sense.

Manager A.J. Hinch spelled it out, per MLB.com's Brian McTaggart:

"He's a good-looking young player who is doing a great job of making a great first impression. He's got some things to learn, he's got some things to work on. He's a great talent, and I think that's where it starts and ends. I think his contribution to 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 the month no matter what he does. We feel it's just not in the best interest for him."

That's a reasonable approach for a team in win-now mode. Let Tucker marinate in the minors a bit longer, hone his skills and delay his service clock. There's no pressure to rush. Roll with the existing championship core and pencil him in as a cost-controlled option for 2019 and beyond.

Then again, there's no reason to wait forever. If Tucker keeps mashing, the Astros can and should give him the call. Injuries or underperformance might free up a job. Or, Tucker may force the Astros' hand regardless of roster realities.

He's been compared favorably (with tongue partially in cheek, but still) to the legendary Ted Williams, per Hunter Atkins of Chron.com. His teammates, Atkins noted, put a placard on his locker that read, "TED." 

"He's not gonna touch it," Hinch said, per Atkins. "He's not taking that down."

Would anyone?

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - MARCH 06: Kyle Tucker #79 of the Houston Astros reacts after hitting a home run against the New York Mets during the seventh inning of a spring training game at First Data Field on March 6, 2018 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The Mets de
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Tucker is light years away from a Hall of Fame career. Many top prospects have dazzled in the lower levels and lit up spring training only to fade under the MLB glare. 

Tucker isn't being asked to be a savior, though. The Astros don't need him at all in 2018. If he breaks through, it will be on talent and performance alone, not out of desperation to call up a blue chip.

If he hits at Minute Maid Park like he has in the Grapefruit League, he'll make the Astros nearly unstoppable. He'll gild a lily that doesn't need gilding, but what the heck?

The good get better. The rich get richer.

So it goes.


All statistics current as of Wednesday, March 7 and courtesy of MLB.com.


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