Astros rookie Kyle Tucker has a beyond smooth swing. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Astros rookie Kyle Tucker signs autographs for the fans. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Marwin Gonzalez knows how to come up in big moments for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Astros starter Dallas Keuchel can be a left-handed difference maker. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Houston Astros pitcher Charlie Morton saved the day in Game 7 of the World Series and got the start in the first home game of the new season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Astros rookie Kyle Tucker knows he'll sometimes be the center of attention. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Kyle Tucker carries the potential to play both corner outfield spots for the reigning world champion Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Dallas Keuchel & Lance McCullers Jr.
Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow with the World Series trophy. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Astros manager A.J. Hinch (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Kyle Tucker is one of the great what ifs of the Houston Astros’ 2018 season. If the Astros don’t get paranoid about the Oakland A’s push, maybe Tucker is given the type of grace period that Alex Bregman was during his own introduction to the big leagues (Bregman started his career 1 for 32).
Maybe Tucker becomes the type of hitter he’s always been and the Astros have another impact bat that helps swing the American League Championship Series. Maybe A.J. Hinch’s team is the one battering the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series rather than the Red Sox.
Maybe, maybe, maybe…
What’s indisputable is if the Astros want to be a dynasty momentarily interrupted rather than a would be dynasty that died a premature death, Kyle Tucker needs to be a contributing force at the Major League level next season.
Another season in limbo for Tucker would limit the 2019 Astros’ potential significantly.
So it’s no surprise that Tucker’s name comes up on the day that Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch officially wrap up a franchise record 103 win season that ended in October disappointment. With a massive horde of Donald Trump fans lined up just down the street, Luhnow addresses the Tucker question in a much more subdued scene in the bowels of Minute Maid Park.
Both Luhnow and Hinch are wearing sports coats, with no ties, and future thinking caps.
“I think next year is a big year for Kyle Tucker,” Luhnow says. “He got a chance to come up here a couple times and have a little taste of it. He didn’t have the success that he wanted. And hopefully that’s made him more hungry to come up here and succeed.”
With the Astros’ super utility star (and regular corner outfielder) Marwin Gonzalez hitting free agency at age 29 with Scott Boras as his agent, there is a good chance he’ll be playing elsewhere next season. Both Tony Kemp and Tyler White had big moments for the Astros this season, but neither player carries the pure talent super upside of Tucker.
Right fielder Josh Reddick, under contract for the next two seasons at $13 million a year, is not going anywhere either. But at his best, the 21-year-old Tucker is a different type of force.
A Fifth Young Star?
Tucker carries the potential to become part of the Astros’ young super hitting core of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and George Springer.
“Kyle Tucker is an elite prospect,” Luhnow says. “He’s going to be a really great player at this level. It’s just a matter of time.”
For an Astros team that returns co-aces Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, but finds itself highly uncertain if it will be able to retain free agent starters Dallas Keuchel or Charlie Morton, the time is right for a more dynamic offense.
This is a team that could use a fifth Beatle. Calling Kyle Tucker.
“I think we’ve shown this year, we’re going to give him a shot,” Luhnow says of the biggest talent in the Astros’ farm system. “But we’re not going to hand him the job. And I think we’ll see that next year.
“But I’m hoping he’s ready to take it and becomes a fixture for us, because he’s that type of talent.”
This is a late October of adjustments for the sports franchise that taught Houston to believe again after Hurricane Harvey. While the Red Sox jump out to a quick lead over the Dodgers (the American League Championship Series being the real World Series looks more real than ever after Game 1), the Astros adjust to having to watch.
“Right now, sitting in this chair, I think you have to find the right balance of being proud, yet being unsatisfied,” Hinch says. “And that’s kind of where I sit.
“We did tremendous things, but the fact that the World-Series-or-bust mentality certainly around here expectations of the season make you feel like the bar’s set at the right level.”
It is a bar that requires new stars to leap. Kyle Tucker is still the Astros’ best bet to become one. He’s probably a surer, sounder bet than many of the bats Luhnow could pursue in free agency this winter.
Nothing’s guaranteed in professional sports. But the Astros need Kyle Tucker to start becoming one.