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On The Astros: Ted Talk

As Astros fans revel in a glorious spring from the owner of what is already one of the iconic swings in franchise history, the table-pounding for a promotion has the question buzzing: What does he have left to prove in the minor leagues?

MLB: Spring Training-Milwaukee Brewers at Houston Astros
Ted doing Ted things
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

You know the story. Some of us (not just this writer, there were others) have been comparing Kyle Tucker’s swing to that of the late legend Ted Williams since Tucker was in high school:

And, after Peter Gammons (who watched the Splendid Splinter in his youth, even if his pro journalistic career with the Boston Globe began nine years after Williams retired) laid the comp on Tucker himself on draft day, it began to catch on like wildfire. This spring, as Kyle Tucker has flatly raked his way through Spring Training for the Houston Astros, the fans have picked up on a practical joke from the clubhouse (someone changed out Kyle Tucker’s nameplate on his locker to read “Ted” in playful homage to the comp) and begun pounding the table in earnest for “Ted” Tucker to join the club sooner rather than later. Some have gone so far as to begin clamoring for an Opening Day assignment that has literally never been in the cards, with AJ Hinch being very clear since very early in Spring Training this year that the team feels Tucker still has some things to work on in the Minor Leagues:

Still, with only one game in Spring remaining and no guarantees that he’ll even play this afternoon in it, a Spring Line that’s more or less set now for Tucker looks like this:

Kyle Tucker 2018 Spring Training

Kyle Tucker 19 41 13 18 36 1 1 5 21 3 0 7 2 0 0.439 0.467 0.878 1.345 0.89

No, you’re not misreading. Tucker does indeed have more Runs Batted In than Game Played - in fact, he has roughly one RBI for every two at bats this spring. Which, yes, is flat-out silly.

ZiPS projects a season line right now for him of 124 games played, 21 home runs, and a 103 wRC+ with a .253/.310/.455 slash line. On the whole, it is understandable to pound the table and clamor for this remarkable young talent to join the best team in baseball sooner rather than later. After all, check out what he did in his very first plate appearance ever within the confines of Minute Maid Park last night:

From another angle:

Another, higher-resolution look from the Press Box angle:

And, finally, a .gif of still shots from Astros Super-Fan Le Nguyen:

Since Monday's game was not televised, some of y'all may not have had a chance to see the #grandsalami by #KyleTucker. Here's the GIF for y'all. #AgsWin #Astros #MLB #springtraining #NeverSettle

Posted by Lê Hoàng Nguyên on Tuesday, March 27, 2018

So, the result does indeed look pretty dominant. Of course, a closer look into the StatCast data from last night’s game (thanks for that link in the Game Thread, Kastros!) will show that Kyle Tucker didn’t exactly get all of that baseball. His exit velocity was 92.2 mph, which gave him the 22nd best exit velocity on a batted ball event for the night. Tony Kemp had two of the better-struck balls, as Tucker’s 38 degree launch angle coupled with the exit velocity a gave him a hit expectancy of only 4%. The result is still a home run, of course, and a game-winning grand slam at that. It’s well and just to be excited about it!

It is, likewise, understandable to find chagrin in a more cynical interpretation of the Astros’ actions. It’s easy to roll one’s eyes and mutter about service time manipulation, but Astros fans should keep a few things in mind.

First, yes, the team does absolutely stand to benefit from clock manipulation for Tucker, the same as they stood to benefit from clock manipulation with Lance McCullers (debuted in May 2015), Carlos Correa (debuted in June 2015), and Alex Bregman (debuted in July 2016). There’s no point in denying that obvious benefit, and why would any fan of the team be upset by the team making a smart business decision that’s well within collectively bargained rules in order to ensure the longest window of team control over yet another potential superstar player?

That aside, however, there are some serious seasoning things the Astros would like to see from Tucker. They’d like to see continued success against left-handed pitching at higher levels in the minors, they’d like to see a slightly more polished look defensively in the outfield, and they’d like to see Tucker struggle some and see how he adapts against the higher levels of minor league competition. The team is pretty well established, at this point, in preferring to see their young players rise through the ranks and face other teams in their respective league more than once, in order to allow adjustments on both sides to be made and to allow the youngsters to show how they can evolve.

Additionally, Kyle Tucker is only just now 21 years of age. He was one of the youngest players in the Texas League last season, and has played a grand total of 72 games above A ball. Bypassing Triple-A entirely would be nearly unheard of in modern baseball for an offensive prospect on a contending team, and the best team in baseball has no pressing need to rush him when a bit more seasoning can do him worlds of good in aiding his transition to the Major Leagues full time.

Patience, Astros fans. The day is coming, and coming soon.