Kyle Tucker is entering the 2021 campaign as one of the Astros’ established regulars. On the heels of a long awaited breakout year in 2020, Tucker now has a full season in front of him, and could be primed to elevate his profile from a young talent on the upswing to a legitimate All-Star.
On Sunday, I was able to interview Tucker and ask him various questions, ranging from last year’s success to this year’s personal goals, with a healthy amount of discussion regarding hitting in between.
Q: As you were heading into this past offseason, was there one particular aspect of your game that you wanted to improve the most?
KT: I think overall as a player, you want to improve in any aspect of the game as much as you can. What I try and do is get better at everything. I worked on getting faster, getting better reads in the outfield. I cleaned some stuff up on hitting. I just try to improve my overall game because I know everyone on our team does the same thing, because everyone’s goal is to win a World Series. When everyone’s winning and having a good time, it’s more more fun for the fans, so that’s why we play, and Houston’s a big part of why we play. I just try to improve on everything.
Q: It’s been said that the biggest difference between minor-league pitching and major-league pitching is that minor-league pitchers pitch more to their strengths, whereas big-league pitchers tend to attack hitters’ weaknesses. Given your success against big-league pitching last year, how did you make that adjustment?
KT: I think (major-league) pitchers feel comfortable with what they have and try to stick to their strengths as well but there’s a lot more detail on the scouting side. I think there’s a lot more studying that goes on, and they (pitchers) try to exploit your weaknesses, but they don’t try and go away from their strengths too much. You try and grow as a player and become more professional, because the longer you’ll play, and the more times you play people, you pick up on things. As the season goes, if you face a guy once, he might throw you differently the second or third time around, so you gotta see how things work out and do your studying and trust your practice.
Q: In this era where there’s so much information — and I’m sure the Astros give you a good amount of it — do you feel like you have a good grasp on how to utilize that information while at the plate?
KT: We have scouting reports saying a pitcher likes to throw to left-handers all away to us on the outside part of the plate. In the back of our mind, that’s what we’re focusing on is that part of the plate and we’ll just give them the inside part of the plate, but at the same time you gotta make those adjustments in-game and if they think that they can get you out on fastballs in, and that’s all they’re throwing, you go based off that. A lot of the scouting’s pretty accurate because it’s over the course of a season they’re getting information from — they (pitchers) just have tendencies. You just make in-game adjustments based on how they like to pitch you, but yeah, there’s a lot of background studying that a lot of players do before the games start. You try and use that to your advantage as much as possible.
Q: Last year, you had stretches of success against left-handed pitching in August and during the playoffs — how do you build on that going forward into a full season?
KT: You just gotta pick your time when to attack. Lefties split up their fastballs and sliders pretty evenly, so you can just pick a pitch and sit on that over the course of an AB. I’m a guy that wants to be in there everyday and giving my all, so if there’s a tough lefty or a righty, I’m trying to be in there and playing.
Q: 2021 will be your first full season in the big leagues, how confident are you in your ability to handle the grind of a full major-league season?
KT: I’ve been playing in the minor leagues for four or five years so that’s a pretty good grind and a lot of guys in the minors will tell you that, but the big leagues — it’s fun, it should be fun. Obviously, it’s a grind, we play 162 games and it’s a long year. There’s lots of traveling that goes on. But I can’t complain, I’m doing what I love and I’m out there playing with a lot of great guys, guys that have been doing it for a while and guys that have been playing in this league that I looked up to when I was younger, so it’s fun to be out there playing with them. I can’t complain that much.
Q: Do you have any specific goals this year, whether stat-wise or from another standpoint?
KT: I have some personal goals — like hit for a high average, hit 20 homers, steal 20 bases. That’s personally the minimum of what I try and go off of. I feel like if you have 20 homers you’re going to drive in a good amount of RBIs and score a decent amount of runs. But the ultimate goal for us — and I know it’s the same for every guy in our locker room — is to get back to the playoffs and win another World Series. That’s why we’re playing. We don’t want to just play games and have some fun. Obviously, we’re having fun out there but we want to win games as a team and whether it’s 10-0 or 1-0, it doesn’t really matter for us, as long as we’re winning.
Q: With George Springer no longer on the team, do you feel any extra pressure to take your game to another level this year?
KT: No, I think everyone kind of knows what they need to do. Having George with us has been awesome and he’s a great guy, a phenomenal player. He had a decision and he wanted to go sign with the Blue Jays — I’m happy for him. We don’t gotta try and out-do George or try and fill his shoes, we just gotta go out there and play our own game. If you’re out there playing hard and grinding, it should work out. We have a great group of guys in there, we have a great lineup, great pitching staff. I think we’ll be fine.
Making a difference off the field
Tucker’s partnered with the DICK’s Sporting Goods Foundation and participated in its Giving Truck Tour, which made its stop in Houston this past weekend. Though he was in Florida, Tucker surprised kids from Sheldon Little League via Zoom.
“I wanted to give back to the community,” Tucker said. “The city of Houston, they’re a big part of the Astros and they come and cheer us on every game and they give us their all and I wanted to give back, and with the DICK’s Foundation I was able to do that. It was good to see the kids and interact with them over the screen. That was awesome.”
More information on the program can be found here.