Houston has been involved in this week’s Noah Syndergaard rumor extravaganza, but at last check, the Astros were said to be “pessimistic” about acquiring him. It turns out the team has “backed off” in its pursuit of Syndergaard partly because of a hesitance to trade high-end outfield prospect Kyle Tucker, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (subscription required).
Now 22, Tucker has been considered one of the game’s premier prospects since the Astros drafted him fifth overall in 2015. Baseball America (subscription required) ranked him as the game’s 12th-best farmhand in its most recent update, while ESPN’s Keith Law (subscription) placed him 19th. Tucker’s lone taste of major league action last year went horribly – he hit .141/.236/.203 in 72 homer-less plate appearances – but Law explains there’s little cause for panic. At the same time, though, BA and Law each suggest he may be a candidate for a change of scenery.
There is no immediate opening for Tucker in Houston, which has Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick as its primary corner outfielders, superlative rookie Yordan Alvarez at designated hitter and Yuli Gurriel at first base (where Tucker has been getting work of late). Nevertheless, indications are that Tucker’s an Astro to stay. Two weeks ago, Jake Kaplan of The Athletic (subscription) wrote that “it would be a major upset” to see the Astros ship him out for a starting pitcher by Wednesday’s deadline. General manager Jeff Luhnow explained to Kaplan at the time that the Astros still regard Tucker as a cornerstone in the making.
Although he stopped short of calling Tucker “untouchable,” Luhnow noted, “I see Tucker as a part of this team going forward.” He added that “it would be very difficult for us to move one of the top prospects in the game who is just starting his career and is still young and looks like he’s going to have a lot of upside.”
Tucker, for what it’s worth, has slashed .261/.344/.558 with 26 home runs and 22 stolen bases in 403 Triple-A plate appearances this year. Those look like exceptional numbers on paper, but Tucker’s output has only been 10 percent better than average in the offensive gantlet known as the Pacific Coast League, according to FanGraphs’ wRC+ metric. Tucker was an incredible 55 percent superior to the league mean when he hit .332/.400/.590 with 24 HRs and 20 steals in 465 PA during his first try at the Triple-A level in 2018. He has since upped his strikeout rate from 18.1 percent to 24.1.
Despite his downturn in production this year, doubters in Tucker’s long-term potential are few and far between. And if the Astros don’t want to move Tucker for Syndergaard, arguably the most valuable starter on the trade market, then it stands to reason he’s not going anywhere.