Tucker’s power makes him a candidate for Braves roster

Preston Tucker reminded everyone why the Braves acquired him this winter, doubling off the right-center wall and hitting a two-run homer in a three-RBI game Wednesday against the Phillies.

He’s got legit major-league power.

In a week when the Braves signed veteran Ezequiel Carrera to be a candidate for the left-field job and Dustin Peterson hit a couple of long home runs to inject his name into the competition, Tucker had a game that commanded attention and showed he’s fully regained his strength and appears poised to be a factor with his new organization.

The 27-year-old left-handed hitter had a .364 average (12-for-33) with four doubles, one homer, four walks and just one strikeout in 16 games through Wednesday, second-highest among Braves with at least 25 at-bats. His 1.008 OPS was also second-best among among Braves in at least 25 at-bats, behind only phenom Ronald Acuna (1.130).

“(Tucker) has ability to put the bat on the ball, and he hits it hard, too,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

He’s hitting it as hard as he ever has, Tucker figures, after having a full year to regain his strength following 2016 shoulder surgery. And when he wasn’t called up by the Astros in September despite 24 homers and seven triples last season in Triple-A, he had more time to get in the weight room and added motivation for being left out as the eventual World Series champions rolled toward the postseason.

Tucker hit .219 with 17 homers and a .677 OPS in 467 plate appearances with the Astros during major-league stints in 2015 and 2016, including .243 with 13 homers and a .734 OPS in 98 games in 2015, his only extensive big-league time.

The Braves got him in a minor deal for cash just before Christmas, figuring they could use him in a platoon in left field with incumbent fourth outfielder Lane Adams until Acuna takes over the position – which could be as soon as opening day, but is more likely to be the third week of the season or later for service-time purposes – and then have Tucker available as a bench bat or depth at Triple-A.

But Adams has struggled this spring after deciding to make changes to his swing during the offseason, and Peterson is not on the 40-man roster and, it’s at least worth noting, has been impressive but done most of his damage against mostly unproven pitching late in games.

Versatile Danny Santana, another non-roster invitee but an experienced one, is having a good spring, and the addition of Carrera brought another lefty bat into the competition, though 30-year-old Carrera isn’t a strong defender and doesn’t have much power. Tucker isn’t strong on defense either and is not out of minor league options, so he can be sent down, unlike Carrera.

But did we mention the power?

“Power is all relative. Putting up consistent power numbers is something that I think helps my game,” Tucker said. “So I try to elevate the ball, put the ball in the seats and produce runs. That’s one of the more (important) skills that I have to contribute.”

He’s also tried to increase his on-base skills, drawing a career-high 65 walks with 102 strikeouts in 568 PAs in Triple-A last season.

“The last couple of years I’ve been working to get more walks, one of the parts of my game that I had to work on when I got called up initially,” he said, “and I think it’s increased every year. It’s still something that I’m trying to work to enhance as well.”

The homer he hit Wednesday was his first of the spring, and Tucker joked that was intentional.

“I’ve been telling my brother this – I try not to waste my homers in spring training,” he said. “That’s why I hit the wall in my first at-bat (Wednesday), I didn’t want it to go out.” He laughed and added, “I told my brother, hit as few as you can and keep your average up.”

His brother Kyle clearly isn’t listening to big brother’s advice. Kyle Tucker, who turned 21 in January, is another Astros minor league outfielder, but he’s 6-foot-4 and ranked No. 15 in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects. Kyle has sizzled in Astros camp this spring, batting .375 (12-for-32) with four homers and a 1.244 OPS in 14 games through Wednesday.

Preston Tucker, 6 feet and 215 pounds, was a seventh-round draft pick by the Astros in 2012 out of the University of Florida. His younger brother was a first-round pick out of Tampa’s Plant High School in 2015.