'Underrated' Tucker riding strong '21 into DS
CHICAGO -- Kyle Tucker made his MLB debut at Minute Maid Park on July 7, 2018, against the White Sox. On that day, the then-21-year-old notched his first big league hit and RBI.
Three years later, Tucker was once again facing the White Sox at Minute Maid, this time in Game 2 of the American League Division Series. The results were dramatic -- he knocked a 374-foot homer into the Crawford Boxes to break the game wide open, en route to the Astros' 9-4 victory that put them two games up on Chicago in the series.
“I think Kyle was the best hitter in our lineup this year, and he's one of the best hitters in the game,” Carlos Correa said after the win. “The reason why I say that is because obviously the numbers will back me up, but also, I don't see him getting fooled too often. It doesn't matter if you throw a first-pitch breaking ball or first-pitch fastball. It seems like he's always on time. That's something special. You don't see many hitters that are able to adjust to that.”
The numbers back up Correa’s assertion; Tucker has quietly had a breakout season. After getting off to a slow start in April, when Tucker slashed just .181/.238/.372, he went on to lead the AL in hitting since May 1 at .320, ahead of teammate Yuli Gurriel (.314) and Chicago’s Tim Anderson (.309) during that span.
In 2021, Tucker led the Astros in OPS (.917) and his 5.7 bWAR was the second best on the team behind Correa (7.2). He also finished third in the AL in OPS, behind only MVP favorites Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Even so, Tucker has almost gotten overlooked in the Astros’ lineup, despite being their best bat for most of the season. The 2015 first-rounder bats seventh most of the time, and he doesn’t get a lot of the attention because of players like Correa in the heart of the order and Jose Altuve leading off.
There are no holes in the Astros’ lineup. Tucker’s emergence adds yet another dangerous piece for opposing teams and pitchers to gameplan for.
“He's a natural hitter,” Correa said. “Natural hitters are always the best hitters in the game. The future is bright for this kid right here, not because he's here. I've always told you guys he's the most underrated in the league. I'm glad he got this platform in the playoffs to show you how good he really is.”
The 2021 season isn't Tucker’s first chance in the big leagues, but it’s been by far his best. Formerly a top prospect in the Astros’ farm system, Tucker played just 50 MLB games in ‘18 and ‘19 combined, while continuing to crush the ball on the Minor League side. He started ‘20 as a fourth outfielder, but with Yordan Alvarez missing all but two games of the season, Tucker ultimately became an everyday player.
It was in 2020 that he really began to find his stride at the plate, slashing .268/.325/.512 in the regular season. He was a Gold Glove finalist in left field, adding to an already elite defensive lineup for the Astros.
When asked if Tucker could have a coming out party of sorts in this year’s playoffs, Astros manager Dusty Baker disagreed.
“We're on TV quite a bit, and so the people that really follow baseball know what he is doing and what he is capable of doing,” Baker said. “For those -- for some of the people that aren't as familiar with baseball, it will be a coming out party, but for the people that know he can play and his improvements that he has made the last couple of years, you know, [there] shouldn't be any surprise.”