Tucker, Whitley honored as top Minors players

Tucker, Whitley honored as top Minors players

HOUSTON -- Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley spent a few moments Sunday afternoon talking with Astros manager A.J. Hinch in the home dugout, looking more like a couple of guys who should be hanging out on the college quad than the top of prospects lists.

Tucker, the No. 7-ranked prospect overall by MLBPipeline.com and the top prospect for the Astros, and Whitley, ranked No. 36th overall and second for the Astros, were honored at Minute Maid Park on Sunday after being named the Astros' Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, by the team's player development department on Thursday.

Both players performed well at Double-A Corpus Christi to end the season, setting themselves up for a spot in Major League Spring Training next year and a shot at the big league roster in the not-to-distant future.

"It was my second full year and so I tried to soak everything in," said Tucker, a left-handed-hitting outfielder. "It was a big learning experience for me. Last year, I felt like I saw a lot of room to improve and I felt like I did a lot of improving over the offseason last year and it kind of showed a little bit in the season. I kind of took a few things from last year and kind of grew from that."

Tucker batted .274 with 70 runs, 33 doubles, five triples, 25 homers, 90 RBIs, 21 steals and an .874 OPS in 120 combined games between Corpus Christi and Class A Buies Creek this season. Despite being one of the youngest position players in both the Carolina League and Texas League at 20 years old, Tucker was one of just 10 players in all of the Minor Leagues to record at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 2017.

Tucker, the No. 5 overall pick in 2015, will represent the Astros in the Arizona Fall League beginning next month. He said understanding the strike zone better was his biggest adjustment.

"I kind of have a feel for it now, and throughout the season I would chase a little bit more than I liked," he said. "I realized that, and I feel like that's a big thing going into next year and for the rest of my career. I feel like once I get that laid out, it will be good. "

Whitley dominated at three separate Minor League levels this year despite pitching the entire season at 19 years old, going 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA with 34 walks, 78 hits allowed and 143 strikeouts in 23 games (18 starts) between Corpus Christi, Buies Creek and Class A Quad Cities. Selected by the Astros with the 16th overall pick in last year's Draft, the 6-foot-7 right-hander led the Minors in strikeouts per nine innings (13.94).

"I'd say just really learning how to pitch and reading the hitters would be the biggest thing, and reading their swings and how they react on different pitches," he said. "That was something that was really able to sink in this year and not really so much my first season, right after I got drafted. This season was big in that aspect."

Whitley said he will spend his offseason working out and splitting time between his native San Antonio and Austin, where many of his friends attend the University of Texas.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.