RedHawks outfielder Preston Tucker knows the key if he’s to earn an everyday job in the majors.
“For me, I’m going to have to hit my way to the big leagues,” Tucker said. “I’m not an exceptional defender or an exceptional base-runner. But one thing I’m really concentrating to improve is to become a better defensive player.”
A sixth-round pick out of the University of Florida two years ago, Tucker’s bat has helped him soar through the Houston Astros system.
Following a slow start in Triple A, Tucker has been on a tear the past six weeks, highlighted by a blazing hot streak on the current nine-game homestand that ends Monday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
In the first eight games of the homestand Tucker has hit .371 with three home runs, 13 RBIs and 10 runs scored.
“He can do a little bit of everything,” said Oklahoma City hitting coach Leon Roberts. “He can use the whole field. He’s got pop. He can hit the ball in the gaps. He’s got raw power. He has a lot of pluses, but currently his stride is too big, too hard, too long. That puts him in a tough position, but he still defends himself pretty good.”
Roberts, though, recently had an extended 40-minute chat with Tucker on things he needs to work on this upcoming off-season.
“It’s an ongoing challenge to polish all aspects of your hitting,” Roberts said. “The conversation was about incorporating gradually, locking it in over the winter, then show it off next spring. If he works on shortening his swing he can really get on a roll next season, whether that’s back here in Triple-A or the big leagues.”
In just his second full pro season, Tucker has been on a pretty good roll since he was drafted.
This season, Tucker has slammed 23 home runs and collected 77 RBIs between Double-A Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City. Last season, he hit .297 with 25 homers and 103 RBIs between Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi.
“It’s all about making adjustments,” Tucker said. “Obviously there’s a lot more I need to do to get to the next level. It’s little things, whether it’s my stride or how I use my hands. It’s not that I’m struggling, but I need to work on things that can help me become a more efficient hitter.”
He’s only ranked as the Astros 20th best prospect in a system loaded with young stars. But that seems to be far too low for someone who has been a .293 hitter with a .363 on-base percentage in roughly 300 minor league games.
Astros fans got a firsthand look at the corner outfielder earlier this season when Tucker homered at Minute Maid Park in a showcase game against San Antonio.
“He’s sort of been a sleeper, but there were a couple of people in our (staff) meetings that said he’s probably our best bat at the minor league level,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow was quoted earlier this season. “He’s definitely got a chance to be on our club the next few years.
Tucker said the slow start in Triple-A back in June was due to making adjustments.
“I’ve noticed is one of the biggest differences between Triple-A and Double-A is the bullpens are a lot better,” Tucker said. “In Double-A, a lot of times it’s primarily the starters that are projected to succeed at the next level. Here, the bullpen has some arms as good as the starters, some who have been in the majors.
“You need to really grind out at-bats, something that helps you prepare you for what you’ll see at the big league level.”
Tucker, 24, has played in only 53 games at the Triple-A level so there’s a chance the Astros won’t promote him when rosters expand in September after the Triple-A season ends. But if Tucker hits well the remainder of the season, he could force Lunow and the organization make some decision next spring.
“He’s Preston,” Delino DeShields, a Corpus Christi teammate, was quoted. “We call him Bam-Bam. He’s proven he can hit anywhere. It’s just a matter of time before he becomes a start in the big leagues.”
Tucker isn’t looking ahead. His focus is to grind out at-bats and continue to make improvements.
“I feel I have decent power,” Tucker said. “I have no idea how my numbers would translate at the major league level, but if I can continue to make good, solid contact I should be all right.”