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Stage set for Astros' top prospect to break out

Club's pursuit of outfield help won't block Tucker in Houston
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

LAS VEGAS -- The Astros' pursuit of offense won't come at the hindrance of No. 1 prospect Kyle Tucker, club president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow said Tuesday from baseball's Winter Meetings at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

Tucker, No. 5 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects, struggled in his big league debut last July, but will be in camp competing for a starting spot in the outfield alongside George Springer and Josh Reddick. That being said, the Astros are in the market for an outfielder or a designated hitter -- or perhaps a combination of both -- to bolster their offense in 2019.

LAS VEGAS -- The Astros' pursuit of offense won't come at the hindrance of No. 1 prospect Kyle Tucker, club president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow said Tuesday from baseball's Winter Meetings at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

Tucker, No. 5 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects, struggled in his big league debut last July, but will be in camp competing for a starting spot in the outfield alongside George Springer and Josh Reddick. That being said, the Astros are in the market for an outfielder or a designated hitter -- or perhaps a combination of both -- to bolster their offense in 2019.

Top 30 Astros prospects

Luhnow wouldn't give specifics on the club's pursuit of an outfielder, but the Astros have been tied to free agent Michael Brantley, a left-handed hitter who would be a good fit. Luhnow said if Tucker is competing with a veteran for playing time, that's a good thing.

"If we have an extra outfielder halfway through the season, we'll figure out how to deal with it," he said. "At this point, if we have expectations of repeating as division champions and hopefully doing damage in the postseason, we don't want to necessarily count on a rookie to produce at the level we're going to need."

Video: HOU@BAL: Tucker slides to make a nice shoestring grab

Tucker, who was named the Astros' Minor League Player of the Year last season after hitting .332 with 27 doubles, 24 homers and 93 RBIs in 100 games at Triple-A, batted just .141 (9-for-64) with no homers after being called up in July. He'll be 22 when Spring Training starts in February and is determined to make a splash.

"I'm going to go as hard as possible and try to win that spot," said Tucker, who was at Mandalay Bay on Tuesday ahead of a video-game tournament he's participating in on Wednesday. "I'm not going make it a fourth-outfielder position for me, but become an everyday player and make an impact on the team this year."

Tucker said he's not playing close attention to any rumors about whom the Astros might be pursuing. He is more focused on putting himself in the best position to succeed but knows he'll have to learn and grow from his first taste of big league pitching.

"It's more of a mindset, not anything mechanical," Tucker said. "I feel fine at the plate. The more you see pitches, the more you feel comfortable. The more you play teams, you kind of figure out how they're going to pitch you and everything. You have to make that adjustment at any level, but it's just getting in there and playing and making them."

Video: HOU@COL: Tucker hits a clutch pinch-hit, 2-run triple

Luhnow remains committed to Tucker and hopes he has to make some tough decisions because the youngster has performed so well.

"Kyle has all the ability in the world, and he will do it, but when things come easy to you in the Minor Leagues, sometimes you just expect that in the big leagues," he said. "He'll be fine. I have a lot of confidence in him. I hope he's going to be a really good impact player, and hopefully it will be this year."

Luhnow said the Astros have offers on the table to free agents and have made some trade proposals, though there's a sense the team won't do anything significant before it leaves Las Vegas. The Astros are still in the hunt for a starting pitcher to join Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Collin McHugh -- all of whom are free agents after next season.

"We are looking at both short- and medium-term deals for pitchers," Luhnow said. "That being said, I think a year from now we'll know a lot more about [No. 6 prospect] Corbin Martin, we'll know a lot more about [No. 2 prospect] Forrest Whitley, and we'll have a better sense on [Josh] James and [Framber] Valdez and it could be we don't have an issue a year from now. If [Verlander, Cole and McHugh] were free agents right now, I'd be nervous about replacing them with those guys, but a year from now, I think we're going to have a lot better information."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Kyle Tucker