First hit, RBI cap ballyhooed Tucker’s whirlwind day
Top prospect makes debut and will play regularly, says Hinch
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.
Kyle Tucker watches the path of his first major league hit, a seventh-inning single off White Sox reliever Bruce Rondon.