First hit, RBI cap bal­ly­hooed Tucker’s whirl­wind day

Top prospect makes de­but and will play reg­u­larly, says Hinch

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - BASEBALL - By Chan­dler Rome

Fif­teen feet from the en­trance to the Astros’ club­house, near the bath­room and two steps away from a morn­ing card game among re­lief pitch­ers, Kyle Tucker swiveled in his chair and sur­veyed his sparse locker while re­porters shuf­fled in.

Ge­orge Springer caused a ruckus, in­struct­ing a cam­er­aw­ield­ing horde to call his newest team­mate “Ted,” the nick­name Tucker’s swing and spring train­ing per­for­mance gar­nered.

“A lot of guys are pretty poised and kind of show they’re not anx­ious on the out­side,” Springer said. “But on the in­side, there’s prob­a­bly a lot hap­pen­ing. He’ll be fine. It’s a good day for him. There’s no pres­sure.”

Tucker al­lowed a smile to creep across his face, fit­ting for Satur­day’s mo­men­tous oc­ca­sion but not for the 21-year-old him­self. Within the Astros or­ga­ni­za­tion, Tucker is renowned for his makeup — an uber poised, al­most blasé de­meanor with which he has ac­cepted his pres­tige as the team’s No. 1 prospect among po­si­tion play­ers.

“He’s not go­ing to panic,” man­ager A.J. Hinch said. “His heart rate is as high as it’s go­ing to get to­day, his ma­jor league de­but, and that’s not very high. He’s calm. His de­meanor is good. He can con­trol him­self.”

Alex Breg­man dressed at his locker, ad­ja­cent to Tucker’s. The two con­versed in hushed tones. They were se­lected within three picks of one an­other in the 2015 draft — a col­lege short­stop and a lanky, left­handed-hit­ting high school out­fielder, each with fran­chise-al­ter­ing po­ten­tial for an or­ga­ni­za­tion fin­ish­ing a re­build.

On the first day they shared a field in a reg­u­lar-sea­son ma­jor league game, the duo took bat­ting prac­tice to­gether. Breg­man hit first be­fore Tucker’s smooth left­handed swing, the one for which fans have longed, fi­nally ar­rived at Minute Maid Park.

Nine games be­fore the Al­lS­tar break and with a glut of righthanded start­ing pitch­ing soon to op­pose them, the Astros called up Tucker to make his ma­jor league de­but against the White Sox on Satur­day.

“When you have a top guy like that and you’re block­ing him for rea­sons other than the fact that he’s not ready, you have to ques­tion whether you’re do­ing the right thing for the or­ga­ni­za­tion,” said gen­eral man­ager Jeff Luh­now. “We want him to get ex­po­sure this year and to an­swer the ques­tion whether he’s a guy that should be in our lineup (in) game one of the post­sea­son.”

In his first 80 Class AAA games, Tucker slashed .306/.371/ .520. Dur­ing June, he hit eight dou­bles, a triple and six home runs, amass­ing a 1.078 OPS in 106 at-bats.

Tucker was not in Class AAA Fresno’s lineup on Fri­day night but was not told of his pro­mo­tion un­til the fourth in­ning of the Griz­zlies’ game. He phoned his par­ents and brother, for­mer Astro Pre­ston Tucker, wak­ing them all on the East Coast.

“I didn’t put too much pres­sure on it,” Tucker said of chat­ter sur­round­ing an im­pend­ing call-up. “I just went out and played ev­ery game at Triple-A and played as hard as I could and tried to win as many games as I could there. There’s guys that have gone up and down a lot, and they’ve got a lot of tal­ent down there. I’m happy to be here now.”

Tucker played left field and hit sev­enth against White Sox starter James Shields, who struck hime out three times.

Re­liever Bruce Rondon ceded Tucker’s first ca­reer hit in the sev­enth in­ning — a line-drive sin­gle that went off Matt David­son’s glove and into right field. Juan Mi­naya walked Tucker with the bases loaded in the eighth, gift­ing him his first ma­jor league RBI.

“As the flow of the game goes, you kind of ease into it,” Tucker said af­ter­ward. “It makes it a lit­tle eas­ier as the game went along, I had a bunch of stuff this morn­ing, and I was kind of rush­ing around. It seemed like (the game) started real fast. But af­ter that first fly ball I caught and my first AB there, I set­tled down.”

Hinch said Tucker will play both cor­ner outfield spots — at Class AAA Tucker played 31 games in left field and 38 in right — and the man­ager’s hope is to play Tucker ev­ery day.

“He’s one of the best prospects in base­ball,” Hinch said, “We did call him up to play reg­u­larly.”

At 21 years and 171 days old, Tucker is the youngest ac­tive player in the Amer­i­can League. He is the youngest Astro to make his de­but since Car­los Cor­rea, as a 20-year-old, went 1-for-4 against the White Sox on June 8, 2015.

On that same day, half­way across the coun­try, the Astros drafted Breg­man and Tucker, now to­gether on one field. Breg­man wears No. 2, Tucker No. 3 and Cor­rea — on the dis­abled list — is No. 1, three of the hall­mark draft picks of Luh­now’s era.

El­iz­a­beth Con­ley / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Kyle Tucker watches the path of his first ma­jor league hit, a sev­enth-in­ning sin­gle off White Sox re­liever Bruce Rondon.

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