Even before the 2018 season began, there was a tacit understanding that the eventual Atlanta outfield would consist of Ronald Acuña Jr., Ender Inciarte, and Nick Markakis. Any other moves for outfielders were just for literal seat-fillers at the red carpet ceremony that would be Acuña’s debut season. Preston Tucker, acquired from the Astros in December 2017 for a player to be named later, seemed exactly like one of those seat fillers: an average-ish bat with generic-to-poor corner outfield defense does not a starter make.
But, a weird thing happened in early April. First, Acuña was not called up from Triple-A immediately when his extra year of control was secured. Second, this bit of strangeness occurred:
- Through April 7, Markakis and Tucker had wRC+s of 138 and 189, respectively.
- Through April 14, they were 133 and 152, respectively.
- Through April 21, they were tied at 112.
- By the time Acuña was called up, they were at 138 and 103, respectively.
In other words, Preston Tucker started out well. While that probably had no bearing on the Braves’ timing and eventual call-up of their phenom prospect, it still gave them a lift while they secured an extra year of control and figured out whatever else they needed to figure out about their budding superstar.
Tucker’s playing time dwindled with Acuña’s presence, and with his own offensive output. He had three three-run homers in his first 13 games as a Brave, and then put up a 50 wRC+ for the remainder of April, a 74 wRC+ in May, and a 40 wRC+ in June. He was sent to Triple-A a couple of times in the summer, and on July 31, was part of the modest package that retrieved Adam Duvall from Cincinnati. Tucker’s first stint with the Braves ended with 0.1 fWAR and a 99 wRC+ in 127 PAs.
But, like a boomerang, or a replacement-level penny, that was not the last the Braves would see of Preston Tucker. Tucker put up an 80 wRC+ with the Reds and actually got sent to their Triple-A team on August 30, i.e., two days before rosters expanded. The Braves then traded some cash to the Reds on September 2 to re-acquire Tucker. In his second stint, he collected one single and two walks in 15 PAs. It was a very roundabout way to end the year with an 88 wRC+ and -0.2 fWAR, but it wasn’t exactly an unexpected outcome. Wherever you go, there you are — even if it includes some awesome three-run dingers, a trade, and then another trade to undo part of the first trade to get you there.
Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? .229/.299/.404 line across 184 PAs, which combined with some pretty ghastly corner outfield defense to yield -0.2 fWAR on the year. Special shoutout to the fact that Tucker managed -3 Outs Above Average and -5 Catch Percentage Added in his few innings in the outfield, which is actually kind of impressive if you think about it.
Will Tucker be on the roster next year? He very well could be in some capacity, as the Braves retain his rights and he isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2020. Still, as 2018 showed, even with some fun big hits, there’s not much there there.
What is he going to do next year? At this point, it’s hard to see Tucker be more than replacement level for a big league team. He doesn’t hit well enough to overcome his poor defense, and while he has decent pop, he doesn’t walk enough or do anything else enough to justify a roster spot where he can make use of his power.
Highlight of 2018: I know the obvious thing is to point out his three three-run homers, two of which came on back-to-back days, and one of which came off Max Scherzer. But, instead, I’ll pick something more subtle: in the second game of the season, the Braves were trailing by one in the eighth. Freddie Freeman drew a leadoff walk and went first-to-third on a weird play that was really just a groundout from Nick Markakis. Chris Stewart then grounded out to second, unable to score the tying run, but that set up Tucker’s heroics.
Incidentally, Tucker was replaced by Peter Bourjos after this big hit, and Bourjos was thrown out on his poor slide, preventing the Braves from taking the lead. They would lose 5-4 in 11 innings. Also incidentally, it was Tucker’s second late game-tying single in as many games. The Braves getting those types of big hits from unlikely contributors is what made April (and much of the season) so fun.
Lowlight of 2018: Ronald Acuña Jr. made his major league debut on April 25. That was the beginning of Tucker’s relegation to the bench, as he didn’t get another start until over a month later. That very same game, he came up in a big spot — tying run in the form of Acuña on third, eighth inning, one out, down by a run. Facing righty Kevin Shackelford (not a person I made up), who had all of eight innings in 2018 as a major leaguer and ended up being released by the Reds (imagine what you have to do to get released by the Reds if you’re a pitcher), Tucker struck out, unable to tie the game. Luckily Kurt Suzuki picked him up with a game-tying single and the Braves would go on to win 5-4 thanks to a ninth-inning RBI double by Johan Camargo, but it was the continuation of the end for Tucker. Maybe if he gets a hit there, he gets more chances down the line. Probably not, but maybe. Instead, it was all Acuña all the time (well, most of the time) from that point forward, with Tucker left as an interesting footnote to “Atlanta Braves Opening Day Lineup” trivia quizzes. So it goes.