HOUSTON -- So what's next for outfielder Kyle Tucker following his monster Spring Training with the Astros? The club has yet to say whether Tucker will begin the regular season at Double-A Corpus Christi -- where he finished last year -- or Triple-A Fresno.
"He's not starting in the big leagues," manager AJ Hinch said before Tuesday's 8-1 win over the Brewers in an exhibition game. "That's pretty clear, but he's had a remarkable spring, and a very good impact and a good impression. His time is coming. It's not right now. No matter where he starts, the plan for him will remain the same."
Tucker, ranked as the club's No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline, led all Major League players with 21 RBIs in 41 at-bats entering Tuesday's spring finale, including a grand slam on Monday night in his first career at-bat at Minute Maid Park. That was his fifth homer of the spring.
In 2017, Tucker batted .274 with 70 runs, 33 doubles, five triples, 25 homers, 90 RBIs, 21 steals and an .874 OPS in 120 combined games between Class A Advanced Buies Creek and Corpus Christi, where he ended the season. Despite being one of the youngest position players (20 at the time) in both the Carolina and Texas leagues, Tucker was one of just 10 players in the Minors to record at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
Tucker said on Tuesday that he'll head back to West Palm Beach, Fla., on Wednesday and report to Minor League camp. Infielder/outfielder Tony Kemp and infielder Tyler White, both of whom have Major League service time and just missed out on making the 25-man roster, won't have to go to Minors camp following Tuesday's spring finale.
White will remain in Houston while the Astros are in Arlington to play the Rangers, and Kemp will spend a few days at home in Nashville, Tenn., before reporting to Triple-A. The Astros will pass out World Series championship rings to the 2017 team prior to next Tuesday's game against the Orioles, but Kemp and White will have to get their rings at a later date.
"There's definitely times during the season when injuries occur or they need a different look or someone needs a breather, so just looking forward to being that first outfielder that's called whenever they need me and go down there a wreak havoc like I did last year," said Kemp, who led all of Triple-A in hits last year and was named Fresno's MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
Gurriel hopes to avoid DL
Hinch said the club was hoping to get injured first baseman Yuli Gurriel, who's recovering from surgery to remove the hook of the hamate bone in his left hand on Feb. 28, into a live game in Minor League camp on Tuesday or Wednesday. Gurriel will be suspended for the first five games of the regular season, but the Asros are hoping he can avoid the disabled list, which means he could play as early as next Tuesday against the Orioles.
"That's the next step for him is to face live competition," Hinch said. "The more at-bats he can get, the more likely he is to be ready if he keeps responding like he is."
The Astros won't have to decide until close to game time on Thursday whether Gurriel starts the season on the DL.
Hinch said early in camp that he planned to move Gurriel around the infield in the spring to get him more accustomed to playing second base and shortstop, in addition to first base and third base, which are his more natural positions. Because Gurriel missed so much time this spring, those plans have been shelved.
"I still feel I can put him at third and first if needed, but we won't be as open to as many positions around the field as we were originally hoping to get him some reps," Hinch said. "It's now important to get his hand strength up and get him in the lineup."
Dauer to throw first pitch
Rich Dauer, the retired former Astros first-base coach who nearly died after collapsing following the team's World Series parade in November, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Monday's home opener against the Orioles. Hinch will catch the first pitch.
Dauer, 65, underwent a successful surgery to repair an acute subdural hematoma, only hours after he collapsed during the team's parade on Nov. 3. When the surgery began, doctors said he had a three percent chance of survival. He's made a full recovery and lives in Atlanta.
Dauer paid a visit to the team's spring camp earlier this month in West Palm Beach, Fla., and he traveled with them to the White House on March 12 to be honored by President Donald Trump for winning the World Series.
It took a perfectly executed string of events to save Dauer's life in the minutes following the parade. Astros team doctors, team officials and EMTs worked in unison to get an ill Dauer out of the massive crowd on a hot afternoon and to nearby Houston Medical Center. Surgery to remove pressure and stop the bleeding on his brain took three hours.
"I didn't know what I went through and there was a lot of people that had to be put in the right spot for me to go through what I did," Dauer said earlier this month. "I didn't have anything to do with it. God decided he didn't want me to die."
After Wednesday's off-day, watch live on MLB.TV as the Astros open the regular season at 2:40 p.m. CT on Thursday against the Rangers at Globe Life Park. Right-hander Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.36 ERA in 2017) will get the ball for the Astros in his 10th Opening Day start.