Houston Astros 2018 minor league awards

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 08: Josh James #63of the Houston Astros pitches during the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Saturday September 8, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 08: Josh James #63of the Houston Astros pitches during the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Saturday September 8, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images) /
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HOUSTON, TX – JULY 07: Houston Astros left fielder Kyle Tuccker (3) gets to third base in the bottom of the seventh inning during the baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros on July 7, 2018 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Houston Astros Minor League Hitter of the Year: Kyle Tucker

Level(s): AAA Fresno, MLB Houston Astros
Stats: Minors: .332/.400/.590, 100 G, 465 PA, 27 2B, 24 HR, 20 SB, 48/84 BB/K; .141/.236/.203, 28 G, 72 PA, 6/13 BB/K

Coming into this season, Kyle Tucker was one of the elite prospects in the Houston Astros farm system, and he showed himself to be just that in 2018. He struggled a bit in the Arizona Fall League in 2017, so many were curious how he’d handle the next step after having plenty of positives, but still having some concerns in 2017’s production.

Tucker simply went about lowering his strikeout rate from 20.8% in 2017 to 18.1% in 2018 while lifting his walk rate from 8.8% in 2017 to 10.3% in 2018. Typically, shifts like this don’t happen in the upper minors with a player so near “finished” stages of his development, but it shows just how much Tucker works on his game continuously. Even in the major league trial he had this season, he had a similar 18.1% strikeout rate, which is tremendous for a guy with his power.

Tucker is still really defining his defensive position, as he has the range and arm accuracy to handle right field, but not the pure arm strength that many teams would like. Regardless of which corner he plays, the outfield will be well-patrolled with him in it, and that could come in Houston as soon as Opening Day 2019.

Runners-up

The guy who gave the biggest challenge to Tucker in this decision also made the majors, but with much less fanfare to his prospect status. Myles Straw was originally a 12th round draft pick from community college in Florida in 2015. He’s climbed the Astros system with two things in common at every step – quality contact and huge stolen base numbers. Straw’s 70 steals in the upper minors in 2018 were incredible, and he has developed his eye such that he’s walking over 12% of the time, giving him an ideal traditional leadoff profile that could play well at the very top or very bottom of a lineup.

One of the best pure hitters in the 2017 draft was Arizona star J.J. Matijevic, but he simply didn’t have a defined position in college, so he was a tough player to value. The Houston Astros grabbed him in the second round, and in his first full season in the organization, he definitely made them happy they did. He played through both A-ball levels, hitting .277/.350/.538 with 26 doubles, 22 home runs, and 13 steals, handling left field fairly well. He’ll get a shot at AA in 2019.

An elite set of tools, Yordan Alvarez struggled through injury in 2018 but still showed incredible plate discipline and power at just 21. He played across AA and AAA in 2018, hitting .293/.369/.534 in just 88 games, with 20 home runs and 6 stolen bases as he handled left field. Alvarez is a tremendous athlete for his 6’5″, 220+ pound frame, and he could be up soon at the major league level as either a solid left fielder or an elite fielding first baseman.

Another player with a 1B/LF profile is 2016 19th round selection Taylor Jones, who came to the Houston Astros from Gonzaga University. The 6’7″ towering Jones has a lot of motion in his swing with his long limbs, but when it’s all right, he hits very well, and it was all right often in 2018, as Jones combined across AA and AAA to hit .281/.374/.480 with 32 doubles and 18 home runs, posting a 61/124 BB/K ratio over 530 plate appearances.

After struggling in his first two major league trials, Tyler White headed back to AAA in 2018, though he’d had plenty of success there. Something different clicked for White in 2018, and it started with the big season he had in just 70 games for Fresno, hitting .333/.444/.569 with 18 doubles and 14 home runs. He would go on to hit .276/.354/.533 over 66 major league games, taking over as the regular DH by the season’s end.