One year removed from picking up his high school diploma, the education continues for Kyle Tucker.
Houston’s first-round choice and the fifth selection overall in baseball’s 2015 draft, the Quad-Cities outfielder has followed a blistering start at the plate in May with a struggle-filled week on the road for the River Bandits.
After batting .421 over the opening weeks of the month, Tucker has gone 1-for-17 at the plate since leaving Modern Woodmen Park with a .326 batting average one week ago.
When Quad-Cities returns home tonight to open a four-game weekend series against Peoria, Tucker continues to hit at a .298 pace.
Tucker’s current average is 52 points higher than what he hit a year ago while splitting time between the Astros’ affiliate in the Gulf Coast League and an Appalachian League championship team at short-season Greeneville.
Tucker has continued to be effective on the bases for the River Bandits, leading the Midwest League with 20 stolen bases in 23 attempts. He also leads Quad-Cities with 24 RBI and leads current players on the Quad-Cities roster with 18 walks.
“There are going to be highs and lows in this game and you have to deal with that,’’ Tucker said. “You have to come out and compete the same way from one day to the next and trust that if you do that, things will work out.’’
Tucker said his work with River Bandits hitting coach Joel Chimelis has created a more consistent and comfortable approach at the plate.
“I feel good right now about how things have been going,’’ Tucker said. “I feel like I’ve become more patient at the plate and I feel like I’m doing a decent job of hitting the ball to all fields.’’
And once he reaches base, Tucker has maintained an aggressive approach.
“That’s always been part of my game, trying to go from first to third, trying to get a steal if the situation is right,’’ Tucker said. “I’m looking to do things that will help our team.’’
Tucker gained an appreciation for the level-by-level challenges in the minor leagues by watching his brother, Preston, work his way through the Houston farm system to the majors.
“He skipped this level, but I had a chance to go with my family and watch him at every step along the way,’’ Tucker said. “Not many high school players are spending a lot of time at minor-league games all over the country, but I was able to do that and see how things changed from one level to the next.’’
Tucker believes that can help him as he creates his own career path through the minor leagues.
“I’m seeing different pitching here, more consistent pitching and pitchers who have better command of their secondary pitches,’’ Tucker said. “That’s an adjustment, but I expected that and that will continue moving forward.’’
Tucker celebrated his 19th birthday in January and as River Bandits manager Omar Lopez watches him, he sees a player who is a bit ahead of most players at that age.
“He has good instincts for the game and with the tools he has, he’s a bit more advanced that many players in our league,’’ Lopez said. “He has shown good plate discipline and he’s been willing to work on his game.’’
Lopez said growth in reading the ball off the bat as he plays center field will be part of the next developmental step for Tucker.
“He’ll get better with that as he gains experience and that is what all of our guys are here for, to gain experience that comes through competition,’’ Lopez said.
At 6-foot-4 and 189 pounds, Tucker expects to learn this year how his body will react to the rigors of a 140-game season.
“You always feel like you’ve prepared for it, but like nearly everybody here I’ll experience it for the first time,’’ Tucker said. “I feel good right now and hopefully that continues.’’
He expects the learning to continue as well.
“That’s the way it works in this game,’’ Tucker said. “You learn something every day and that’s what I’m here to do. I’ve learned a lot in the past year and I’ll be a better player in the future because of it.’’