Kyle Tucker entered his senior season at Tampa's Plant High with the school's home run record within reach. The outfielder had hit 21 home runs in his first three seasons with the Panthers, just eight fewer than his older brother, Preston Tucker, hit in his own career at Plant.
Tucker cut into the deficit as the season went on, pulling even with his brother at 29 career homers. That's where the count stood going into Plant's final regular season game, a crosstown trip to Jefferson High.
On that night, in front of a crowd that included a throng of scouts and a few general managers, Tucker rose to the occasion. He collected four hits and belted two home runs in a 13-2 victory. The homers gave Tucker 31 for his career, pushing him past his brother and into Plant's record book.
“It was a little surprising," Tucker said. “He's bigger than me, so you'd think he would have more power."
Tucker's season came to an end when Plant lost in the Class 8A district quarterfinals, but that victory at Jefferson was the climax of his high school career and likely solidified his status at the top of the draft class. What scouts saw that night—his feel for hitting, power potential and penchant for the big moment—led the Astros to draft him fifth overall and helped make him Baseball America's 2015 High School Player of the Year.
|2014 Alex Jackson, c, Rancho Bernardo HS, Escondido, Calif.|
|2013 Clint Fraizer, of, Loganville (Ga.) HS|
|2012 Byron Buxton, of, Appling County HS, Baxley, Ga.|
|2011 Dylan Bundy, rhp, Owasso (Okla.) HS|
|2010 Kaleb Cowart, 3b/rhp, Cook HS, Adel, Ga.|
|2009 Bryce Harper, c, Las Vegas HS|
|2008 Ethan Martin, rhp/3b, Stephens County HS, Toccoa, Ga.|
|2007 Mike Moustakas, ss, Chatsworth (Calif.) HS|
|2006 Adrian Cardenas, ss/2b, Monsignor Pace HS, Opa Locka, Fla.|
|2005 Justin Upton, ss, Great Bridge HS, Chesapeake, Va.|
|Find all winners on baseballamerica.com/awards|
Tucker now enters the same organization as his brother. Preston, the Astros' seventh-round pick out of Florida in 2012, made his major league debut in May, with Kyle joining their parents and sister in the stands.
Just a month later, the whole Tucker family came brought together again for a big league game when the Astros brought Kyle to Houston to sign his contract a week after the draft. As a part of the day, he took batting practice with Preston and the rest of the Astros. Because of a seven-year age difference between the brothers, they have never played together. So Kyle relished the opportunity to hit with Preston.
“It was special," Tucker said. “To have an opportunity to go out and hit at Minute Maid Park with my brother, it was awesome."
John Martin, the Astros' area scout in Florida, signed both Tuckers and followed them throughout their high school careers. He said they share many traits.
“They're both excellent makeup players, they both approached the game in high school with a mature attitude and a good work ethic," Martin said. “They both were leaders on the team in high school. They have the same hit tool, the same power."
Tucker said there are some similarities in the way he and his big brother play—and they aren't by accident.
“We don't strike out very much; we put the ball in play," Tucker said. “He has a little bit more power because he's a little bit bigger and stronger. We have kind of similar approaches to the game and in the box. Of course, there's differences between players, but I kind of model myself after him because I get to see him on and off the field. I related my game as much as I can to him and his success."
Despite all the similarities between the Tuckers, Kyle was the fifth overall pick in the draft, while Preston was undrafted coming out of high school before starring for four seasons with Florida. Martin said the biggest reason for that is Kyle has a more attractive swing than Preston did at the same stage of his career. At 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, Kyle is also four inches taller than his older brother and has a leaner, more projectable frame that should portend more power as he physically matures.
Tucker put those physical tools to use on the showcase circuit last summer and again this spring for Plant, mixing the ability to hit for average with plus raw power. He hit .484/.581/.962 with 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases this season, while patrolling center field for the Panthers. He also made eight appearances on the mound, picking up four saves and striking out 12 in 12 innings.
“He had an outstanding year when they pitched to him," Martin said. “He continued to hit, to get to his power.
“He played a good center field. He just showed all his tools that made him a first-round pick."
As successful as his senior year was, Tucker said he simply enjoyed the chance to play with the teammates he has grown up playing with one more time. Included among that group was Plant ace Jake Woodford, whom the Cardinals drafted 39th overall.
Together, Tucker and Woodford made local draft history. As the fifth overall selection, Tucker became the highest pick in Hillsborough County history, matching Dwight Gooden, who was the fifth player drafted in 1982. And the pair made Plant the first Tampa Bay area school to have two players selected in the first or supplemental first round. They also signed on the same day, which Tucker said he enjoyed following from afar.
“You don't see too many guys get drafted from same high school team," Tucker said. “Seeing pictures of him getting drafted and signing was very cool."
While Tucker has true five-tool potential, his physical tools are just one part of his overall package. He also earns praise for his makeup and successfully balanced Advanced Placement classes with baseball to post a 5.33 weighted GPA.
Dennis Braun has coached at Plant High since 2005, Preston's freshman season, and said Kyle is the toughest player he's ever coached.
“There's a lot of great players out there but without that toughness, you're not going to make it," Braun said. “You can have a great swing and still not be a great player."
As well as Tucker has played so far, he is far from a finished product as a player. He understands he will have to continue to get better as he starts his professional career in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
“I probably need to get better at catching up to the game's speed," Tucker said. “There's a lot better competition than what you face in high school.
“Hitting, just learning the game more."
Martin has little doubt that Tucker will be able to handle the rigors of professional baseball and make the adjustments necessary to keep advancing and one day join his brother as a major leaguer.
“For me as an area scout, I'm very comfortable associating my name with a young man like that," Martin said. “And I'm happy associating my name with him."
|High School All-Americans First Team|
|C||Tyler Stephenson||Kennesaw Mountain HS, Marietta, Ga.||Sr.||.425||10||31||6||9||26||—||Reds (1)|
|IF||Ke'Bryan Hayes||Concordia Luthern HS, Tomball, Texas||Sr.||.436||22||41||16||3||27||12||Pirates (1)|
|IF||Cadyn Grenier||Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas||Sr.||.472||65||51||12||5||35||26||Cardinals (21)|
|IF||Tyler Nevin||Poway (Calif.) HS||Sr.||.409||41||45||15||7||22||6||Rockies (1s)|
|IF||Brendan Rodgers||Lake Mary (Fla.) HS||Sr.||.397||19||27||5||8||18||6||Rockies (1)|
|OF||Daz Cameron||Eagle's Landing Christian Academy, McDonough, Ga.||Sr.||.455||38||35||10||8||32||19||Astros (1s)|
|OF||Nick Plummer||Brother Rice HS, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.||Sr.||.521||72||61||22||4||24||32||Cardinals (1)|
|OF||Kyle Tucker||Plant HS, Tampa||Sr.||.484||29||31||9||10||27||10||Astros (1)|
|DH||Cornelius Randolph||Griffin (Ga.) HS||Sr.||.536||—||37||10||7||—||—||Phillies (1)|
|UT||Luken Baker||Oak Ridge HS, Conroe, Texas||Sr.||.440||24||37||5||8||24||1||Astros (37)|
|RHP||Beau Burrows||Weatherford (Texas) HS||Sr.||9||3||0.69||71||32||15||132||Tigers (1)|
|RHP||Donny Everett||Clarksville (Tenn.) HS||Sr.||9||1||1.21||67||32||8||125||Brewers (29)|
|RHP||Jackson Kowar||Charlotte Christian HS, Weddington, N.C.||Sr.||10||1||0.20||71||24||19||118||Tigers (40)|
|RHP||Triston McKenzie||Royal Palm Beach (Fla.) HS||Sr.||9||5||0.79||91||43||16||157||Indians (1s)|
|RHP||Austin Smith||Park Vista HS, Boynton Beach, Fla.||Sr.||8||2||1.33||82||54||23||98||Padres (2)|
|UT||Luken Baker||Oak Ridge HS, Conroe, Texas||Sr.||12||1||1.19||88||64||21||131||Astros (37)|
|C||Chris Betts||Wilson HS, Long Beach, Calif.||Sr.||.473||30||35||5||8||29||6||Rays (2)|
|IF||Travis Blankenhorn||Pottsville (Pa.) HS||Sr.||.441||40||41||6||6||27||13||Twins (3)|
|IF||Jonathan India||American Heritage School, Delray Beach, Fla.||Sr.||.405||21||34||11||1||23||25||Brewers (26)|
|IF||Ryan Mountcastle||Hagerty HS, Oviedo, Fla.||Sr.||.500||20||42||12||2||31||22||Orioles (1)|
|IF||Jalen Miller||Riverwood International Charter, Sandy Springs, Ga.||Sr.||.444||20||28||4||5||17||10||Giants (3)|
|OF||Trenton Clark||Richland HS, North Richland Hills, Texas||Sr.||.552||33||37||8||3||15||11||Brewers (1)|
|OF||Garrett Whitley||Niskayuna (N.Y.) HS||Sr.||.356||24||21||3||3||13||14||Rays (1)|
|OF||D.J. Wilson||Canton (Ohio) South HS||Sr.||.545||49||54||17||4||30||30||Cubs (4)|
|DH||Austin Riley||DeSoto Cetral HS, Southaven, Miss.||Sr.||.423||30||44||14||11||31||2||Braves (1s)|
|UT||Matt Vierling||Christian Brothers HS, St. Louis||Sr.||.451||31||60||14||3||32||10||Cardinals (30)|
|RHP||Joe DeMers||College Park HS, Pleasant Hill, Calif.||Sr.||13||1||0.51||96||38||10||103||Undrafted|
|RHP||Drew Finley||Rancho Bernadino HS, San Diego||Sr.||11||1||0.81||86||41||28||131||Brewers (29)|
|RHP||Peter Lambert||San Dimas (Calif.) HS||Sr.||13||0||0.34||84||43||16||113||Rockies (2)|
|RHP||Nick Lee||South Beauregard HS, Longville, La.||Sr.||11||3||0.67||82||30||15||115||Undrafted|
|LHP||Max Wotell||Marvin Ridge HS, Waxhaw, N.C.||Sr.||14||0||0.66||81||31||27||148||Mets (3)|
|UT||Matt Vierling||Christian Brothers HS, St. Louis||Sr.||8||0||2.07||44||27||31||56||Cardinals (30)|