If you have a life or friends or family of any kind, you may have missed it yesterday but Atlanta traded for OF Preston Tucker from the Houston Astros. The deal was for a PTBNL or cash considerations so I understand if the news didn’t exactly knock you off your feet but it did indeed happen.
I have no idea how good a player Tucker is now or will be with Atlanta. He hit well in AAA last year, which is better than the alternative, but it was in hitter friendly Fresno so who knows what those numbers actually mean. In doing research on him yesterday, I don’t have many friends, I found the normal warts you find in the profile of a 27-year-old minor leaguer, but I did run across something kind of fun.
Like I said, he wasn’t in the majors at all in 2017, so we don’t have any Statcast data on him from last year but he did play in 2016. And in 2016, on his line drives and fly balls, Tucker hit the ball an average of 96.3 mph. That is a big, big number. For context, last year Freddie Freeman, one of the best hitters in baseball, hit his LD/FB at 93.3 mph. Other guys Tucker bested in that department include Bryce Harper, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Miguel Cabrera, and Mike Trout, just to name a few. In fact, last year only 13 players in all of baseball hit the ball in the air with more authority than Tucker did in 2016 (min.100).
The sample size for him isn’t huge but that’s why I like exit velocity numbers so much. One, they correlate well to performance and two, they stabilize really quickly. Hitting the ball hard is the like throwing the ball hard. It doesn’t take many times doing it to show you have the skill to keep doing it. You can’t really fake it. And Tucker can hit the ball hard. So that’s encouraging.
The other encouraging sign is last year in AAA, it seems he made a conscious effort to hit the ball in the air more while making more consistent contact. Hitting the ball hard, hitting it in the air, and consistently making contact is the holy trinity of production in MLB these days so Tucker is at least interesting. He’s the kind of player I begged the last regime to take fliers on during this rebuild instead of letting a bunch of 30+-year-olds lose 90 games a year.
Like I said above, he still has his warts. He still can’t hit lefties and grades out poorly in the outfield. He’s so bad out there I actually wonder if Atlanta got him to be the backup 1B/LH pinch hitter Matt Adams was going to be, just at a fraction of the cost. That would make some sense. If you go back and read some of his prospect blurbs, 1B as a future possibility was usually mentioned. We’ll see. And the struggles with lefties is somewhat mitigated by how few left-handed starters there are in the NL right now. Keeping most of his at-bats against right-handers shouldn’t be difficult.
Whatever he is, or whatever he ends up being, I like the gamble. Braves are due for a random, fringe prospect to come up and turn into a real player. Tucker at least has some underlying skills to make it possible.