It hasn’t been all that long ago, but perhaps you’ve forgotten all about left-handed hitter Preston Tucker, who played two separate stints with the Braves during the 2018 season and was most well known for his involvement in the Adam Duvall trade with the Reds. Back then, Tucker was just 27-years-old, and despite posting a 48 wRC+ during his most recent big-league season, the 2017 campaign with the Astros, he wound up playing quite well during his tenure in Atlanta (at least during the first one).
In his initial stop with the Braves — after the team acquired Tucker from Houston on December 20, 2017, for a player to be named later and cash — he started at left field and played in over 60% of the Braves’ first 99 games in 2018. Tucker hit .256 with 4 home runs and 22 RBI in those 62 games, while also becoming the first-ever Brave to hit a 3-run homer in the 1st inning of consecutive games (April 3-4).
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 4, 2018
Tucker’s historic feat was part of a torrid start to the season, in which he slashed .435/.462/.783 through his first 26 plate appearances (7 games) as a Brave.
However, Tucker’s run as a surprise contributor was relatively short-lived. By May 1 of the 2018 season, his performance started to decline, and through Tucker’s final 36 games (which included only five starts), he hit just .238 with one home run and 4 RBI. Therefore, at the trade deadline that season, the Braves put together a trade package, featuring Tucker and two pitchers (Lucas Sims and Matt Wisler), netting them the power-hitting Duvall from the Reds (which wound up being a disaster).
Having left Atlanta, Tucker didn’t play well in Cincinnati, either. In 17 games, he hit just .189; however, it didn’t stop the Braves from reacquiring the struggling outfielder in early September of that ’18 season — too late for him to join the team in the postseason, though. Tucker played out the string of the regular season for the Braves, primarily utilized as a pinch-hitter. His second and final stint in Atlanta featured a 1-for-12 slump (.083 AVG), and he never landed a big-league job in 2019.
But that’s evidently where the old Preston Tucker dies — a 28-year-old washed up major leaguer. Because nowadays, Tucker has become a baseball star… just not in MLB.
On May 17, 2019, Tucker signed a one-year, $270,000 contract with the KBO’s Kia Tigers, and almost instantly, his pro baseball career took a turn for the better. In 95 games last season, Tucker slashed .311/.381/.479 (139 wRC+) with nine home runs and 50 RBI, while cutting his K-rate in half, compared to his MLB season in 2018 (11.0 K% in 2019 / 23.4 K% in 2018).
In the U.S., Tucker was just a below-average player soon to surpass his prime… but in South Korea, he had become an above-average, up-and-coming star. And surprisingly… life has gotten even better for Tucker in 2020.
On May 17 of this season — a point in which Tucker was slashing .475/.543/.925 with four home runs through his first 46 plate appearances with the Tigers — the now 30-year-old made the news in the U.S., when he belted a homer that hit the “Home Run Zone,” winning himself a new car.
Preston Tucker won a Kia Sorento today.
He's currently tied for the HR lead in the KBO with 5. pic.twitter.com/6d9f2e0mDn
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) May 17, 2020
It’s not enough that Tucker has become a household name in the KBO, but now he’s winning prizes with his bat. And best of all… Tucker’s KBO salary has tripled in 2020, as he’s earning $850,000 this season on a one-year deal.
Although money shouldn’t be a problem for Tucker, at least not while he’s still raking in the KBO. According to FanGraphs‘ Jay Jaffe, in a piece he wrote Saturday, Tucker currently owns the KBO’s third-highest wRC+ by a foreign-born player (155), as he’s hitting .314 with 16 home runs through his first 59 games of the season. Tucker’s plate discipline has evolved into one of the better aspects of his game, shown by his 11.9 K% and 11.2 BB%. Plus, the guy is slugging .603 for goodness sake.
Isn’t it crazy how things work out? After the 2018 season, no one could’ve imagined that Tucker’s career would take the path it has, yet here we are. In the span of essentially an offseason, Tucker has gone from ex-MLBer to one of the KBO’s best players. I can’t wait to see how his 2020 season ends.