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Self-Starter Kyle Tucker Shines At Triple-A

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BEST PLAYER

The hype surrounding 21-year-old outfielder Kyle Tucker would envelop players who do not have his makeup. He shined in big league spring training, then in his first game at Minute Maid Park—an exhibition against the Brewers—he slugged a grand slam. Naturally, Astros fans clamor for his callup from Triple-A Fresno.

Tucker handles it with a workmanlike approach. He steals bases without being prompted. He strives to work at all three outfield positions and refuses to acknowledge the budding hype around him.

"It’s impressive because some guys can’t handle certain levels when it comes down to being a little more independent, having to take ownership of their own development a little bit more,” farm director Pete Putila said. "It’s a real professional approach.”

Tucker turned in a consistent first half in the Pacific Coast League, batting .301/.372/.492 with nine home runs and 22 doubles through 65 games. The Astros are excited by his refined plate discipline, which includes 32 walks and 58 strikeouts.

"The biggest thing for him is he’s able to make contact in a lot of different parts of the zone,” Putila said. "For him, it’s really just shrinking the strike zone and swinging at pitches he needs to drive so that it’s not just an empty batting average, and he has some power to go along with it.”

BIGGEST LEAP FORWARD

First baseman Taylor Jones has changed his batting posture and, as a result, the 24-year-old righthanded hitter has gone into a shoe box.

"That improvement has led to him seeing the ball a little better,” Putila said. "The way he describes it, it’s like he’s looking for the ball in a shoe box and that’s helping him in terms of just swinging at pitches he can drive instead of chasing outside the zone.”

Drafted in the 19th round in 2016 out of Gonzaga, Jones stands in 6-foot-7. In college he was a towering two-way standout, primarily pitching for his first two seasons. He recorded fewer than 400 plate appearances in a four-year career.

That inexperience showed in 2017, when Jones hit just .222 with seven home runs in 105 games at two Class A levels. However, the Astros liked his athleticism and plus defense at first base, and now a full offseason dedicated to refining his offensive game has allowed Jones to blossom.

Through 64 games at Double-A Corpus Christi this season, Jones hit .330/.442/.579 with 12 home runs and 20 doubles. He led the Texas League in on-base percentage and slugging, earning him a starting nod in the league's all-star game.

"We’ve seen guys make improvements—big improvements—but to jump 400 OPS points is pretty crazy,” Putila said. "I think it’s surprising. We saw the work he put in and the adjustments he made, but you never know how it’s going to play when you get out there. But to do what he’s done is pretty remarkable.”

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Baseball America Spring Training Prospect Report -- March 12, 2019

Pete Alonso bolsters his case for the Mets 1B job, Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint remain appealing Braves rotation candidates and more.

SPACE SHOTS

** In his first three starts following his 50-game drug suspension, righthander Forrest Whitley had recorded 18 strikeouts in 12 innings at Corpus Christi. A minor lat injury set his return back, but general manager Jeff Luhnow said his stuff looks "as good as ever.”

** After allowing eight earned runs in his last 10 innings of work, Fresno righthander David Paulino went to the disabled list with right shoulder discomfort. Images revealed no structural damage, Luhnow said.

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