Preston Tucker needed a change of scenery.
It’s probably one of the more overused expressions in sports, but when Tucker was traded from the Astros to Braves on Dec. 20, he got what he needed.
“Whether it’s who you’re surrounded with or just the team itself, maybe you just need a fresh start,” said Tucker, who didn’t appear in a major league game last season. “Maybe there’s something wrong, or there isn’t something wrong. But it’s helping a lot of guys out.
“I spent six years with Houston. I loved every one of them. Six years is an eternity in baseball, and not a lot of guys get to do that. So I figure if there’s a time to start with a new team, it’d be about now.”
Maybe it’s also the right place. Tucker, a Tampa native, grew up watching the Braves and Rays. His parents were ecstatic when he was traded to the Braves, not just for the travel.
“They watched those (Braves) games, too,” Tucker said. “When in doubt at night, I’d turn on a Braves game.”
His fresh start is still a familiar position. Tucker is competing for playing time – likely to come via a platoon with Lane Adams – knowing baseball’s top prospect, Ronald Acuna, is coming for his job.
The Astros arguably are the deepest team in the game in personnel. Tucker debuted in 2015, but as the prospects ascended he was lost in the shuffle.
Tucker played 98 games his first season, hitting .243 with 13 homers and 33 RBIs (323 plate appearances). He logged only 48 games a season later, dropping to a .164 average with four homers in 144 plate appearances.
He spent the entirety of 2017 in Triple-A. Tucker hit 24 homers and seven triples, making him a worthy flier for a team looking for outfield depth.
Tucker has hit 16 of his 17 career homers against righties.
“There’s a little bit more of an opportunity,” Tucker said, comparing the Braves and Astros. “I think a new environment can kind of help some players out, hopefully me being one of them. And me just trying to find something different that I couldn’t find in Houston better than I had before.”
As for the likely platoon scenario, and potential backup role when Acuna takes a starting job, Tucker is willing to work where he’s needed.
“There’s nothing wrong with playing a certain role on this team and trying to help a team win,” he said. “So I’m thinking whatever opportunity I’m presented with these guys, I’m going to try to do it to the best of my ability.”
Preston’s brother, Kyle, is the No. 2 prospect in the Astros’ system. They talk every day, though baseball is seldom addressed during the season. Preston continuously learns from his brother, despite the six-year age gap.
“Just seeing him progress, it’s pretty cool,” Preston said. “I never got to play with him, but we hit every offseason, just kind of share ideas and our mindset on hitting different pitchers, situations. It’s nice to kind of pick his brain and him do the same with me. Getting a little more prepared for spring training than most people.”