Photo: Sean Flynn Photography

Tucker finds his groove in minors

Blake Dowson

Published: Monday, June 6, 2016

2016 Perfect Game Draft Preview Index

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Kyle Tucker is making the transition from high school ball to the professional ranks look easier than every player in the business knows it is.

A smooth defender in center field with a plus arm and a tenacious approach at the plate, the 19-year-old Tucker is tearing up the Midwest League with the Quad Cities River Bandits. Tucker is the second-youngest player on the River Bandit’s roster—and the youngest position player—but leads the team in batting average at .306, 15 points higher than his closest teammate. Tucker has raised his average 13 points in the past six games, going 9-for-22 in that stretch.

Tucker has had his batting average all the way up to .323 this season, going through a 10-game stretch that saw him raise his average 50 points. From May 6-18, Tucker went 18-for-48 (.474) to raise his average from .273 to .323.

Tucker, the fifth overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros, did say the transition hasn’t been as seamless as it may appear, and he has had to adjust to the professional game. After spending time after he was drafted last year playing rookie ball for the GCL Astros and Greeneville Astros, Tucker is about two months into his first full season of professional baseball with the River Bandits.

“The biggest difference now is playing every day,” Tucker said in an interview with Perfect Game. “In high school, you play like twice a week. Here, I’ve already played 40 games in the first month and a half, which in high school that’s like 10 games. That’s the biggest thing; just trying to stay competitive every day.”

The adjustments have come quickly and effectively for Tucker, who has busted out of an early-season slump to lead his team in batting average (.306), runs (23), hits (60), RBIs (31), total bases (82), stolen bases (23), OBP (.375), slugging (.418), and OPS (.793).

Big hits are something Tucker is accustomed to providing. As a member of the 2014 Perfect Game All-American Classic he had one of the game’s more memorable moments, a booming double that was the only extra-base hit in the game.

“I feel like I’ve locked in a little more lately,” Tucker said. “I’ve been trying to get better pitches and not chase everything. That’s my approach every time.”

The lanky lefthanded hitting Tucker, who grew up in Tampa, Florida, comes from a baseball family. His brother, Preston, played in the College World Series with the Florida Gators and was drafted by Houston in the 7th round of the 2012 MLB Draft, and made his major league debut with the Astros in May of 2015. Younger brother Kyle said it’s been a fun experience watching his brother move through the minor league ranks.

“It’s kind of cool. When he was in the minors I went to go see every level he was at,” Tucker said. “So that was cool and I’m excited to play for those same teams. I just kind of watch what he does. He takes a professional approach with everything he does, and I try to incorporate that with everything I do.”

Both Tucker brothers attended Plant High School in Tampa, a school that has pumped out a number of professional athletes. NFL players Eric Patterson, Orson Charles, Aaron Murray, Mike Williams, and James Wilder all went to Plant.

More notably for Tucker, there are a number of professional baseball players that graduated from Plant, and still come back to their old stomping grounds to work out in the offseason. Hall of Famer Wade Boggs is a Plant alum, as well as former PG All-American and second-round pick Mychal Givens of the Baltimore Orioles. Tucker hopes to be the next guy on the list to make a major league roster.

“It’s cool [coming from Plant High School],” Tucker said. “We have names on banners in the outfield for guys that have played in the major leagues. In the offseason, we have a bunch of guys that come back and help out and work out at the high school, so it’s cool to see all of them still around.”

Tucker said growing up around Plant has made a big impact on his playing career, and the amount of time he spent watching Preston and his teammates play has been invaluable for his development.

Not many young kids get to watch high school games with multiple future big leaguers in the field.

“[Preston] grew up playing with some guys that are in professional baseball now,” Tucker said. “So I got to watch those guys growing up; he played with Mychal Givens in high school and he’s with the Orioles organization now. There are a bunch of guys that Preston played with that are up there now, and I always watched them.”

Being the second high school player off the board in the 2015 MLB Draft, Tucker landed in Kissimmee, Florida to play with the GCL Astros with high expectations attached to him.

He said his experiences with Perfect Game helped him prepare for the level of competition he sees every day in the professional ranks.

“Before my senior year, I didn’t really go out and do a bunch of stuff,” Tucker said. “I basically just played with my high school team during the summer in small tournaments and such. But it was nice to go see other guys [at Perfect Game events] all throughout the country and play in big tournaments.

“It was kind of eye opening. You don’t see that high level of play in the tournaments you play in. Going to events and seeing every guy is great, it’s pretty cool to play with those guys, and it benefitted me a lot.”

The 19-year-old Tucker has made the transition from high school baseball to professional baseball look pretty easy. To be able to lead a team in nine offensive categories while being the youngest of the bunch is pretty outstanding. Quick stops at each level of the Houston organization seem more likely than not, and the thought of getting to Houston is exciting to Tucker on more than one level.

“It’s cold [in the Quad Cities],” the Tampa native said. “We came back from Spring Training and it was like 30 degrees. I’ve never really played in that before.”

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