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Farm Tracker: The Surging Kyle Tucker

Teenage OF Kyle Tucker, Houston's top pick in the 2015 draft, has caught fire in the month of May.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Prospect evaluators love young hitters with power-speed potential. Throw in an above-average hit-tool, and you have the makings of an elite offensive player.

If you have not checked minor-league box scores for a few weeks, then you will not have noticed that these elite tools already have begun to bear results for one of the Low-A Midwest League’s youngest players and most highly-touted prospects, OF Kyle Tucker of the Quad Cities River Bandits (Astros).

The fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft, Tucker has followed up a nondescript April (.263/.352/.382) with a monster May. Through Wednesday, May 18, he is batting .404 with a .970 OPS this month. In May alone he also has stolen 12 of his league-leading 18 bases. All season long he has shown an advanced batting eye (17 BB: 29 K), even vs. left-handers (5 BB: 11K), against whom he has slashed .375/.434/.438 in 48 ABs.

At the plate and on the basepaths, Tucker looks even more impressive than his numbers. On Wednesday evening the River Bandits hosted the first-place Clinton LumberKings (Mariners) with RHP Kyle Wilcox, Seattle’s #22 prospect according to Baseball America, on the mound. Wilcox has good stuff but is notoriously wild, and the wildness showed itself on this evening, when he issued six walks in two-plus innings of work. So Tucker, batting third, came to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the first inning knowing that Wilcox might or might not throw him a strike. The first thing one notices about Tucker is that he does not bother with batting gloves; the second is that in the batter’s box he looks a bit like Shawn Green, former Major-League OF who, like Tucker, hit left-handed and was listed at 6’4”-190; the third is that defenses already employ the shift against him.

All evening long Tucker showed that he has plenty in his offensive game to help combat the shift. In his first plate appearance he drew a walk on a 3-2 breaking ball and then proceeded to steal second on the next pitch before scoring on a single to center; with two outs, Tucker created the River Bandits’ first run. In the second inning he laid off a high curveball on 1-2 but then struck out looking on a better version of the same pitch. Two innings later he showed a good eye on a 2-1 curveball and then beat the shift with a sharp single to right field. In the sixth inning he drove in a run with another sharp single to right, which gave him 14 multi-hit games on the young season; 10 of those 14 have come since May 3. A seventh-inning groundout gave him another RBI. He finished the game 2-for-4 with 2 runs, 2 RBI, a walk, and 2 SB. That sort of stat-stuffing performance has become commonplace for the youngster since the calendar flipped to May.

We must not forget that Tucker still is a youngster, and that teenagers are not supposed to dominate the Midwest League, which is comprised mainly of former college players and others in their early 20s. Earlier this season, in fact, OF Daz Cameron, Tucker’s teammate and fellow 2015 draftee out of high school, struggled so badly with Quad Cities that he was sent back to extended spring training to work on his swing. Last season the Milwaukee Brewers gave 2014 draftees Monte Harrison and Jake Gatewood about a month of struggles in the Midwest League before demoting them. Seattle did likewise with Alex Jackson, the 2014 draft’s sixth overall pick. After scuffling all of 2015, San Diego’s Michael Gettys has returned for a second full season with the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Padres). One could multiply examples of teenagers overwhelmed by the Midwest League’s advanced competition, which makes Tucker’s performance all the more eye-opening.

Although we should not expect to see Tucker in the Majors for perhaps a few years, fantasy owners nonetheless can look forward to the eventual arrival of a five-tool player who looks advanced for his age.

On the other hand, in 2015 the Midwest League’s top teenager was Atlanta shortstop Ozzie Albies, who recently was promoted to Triple-A. So we might not have to wait as long for Tucker as we once thought.