MINI-CAMP REPORT

Cody Stoots: 11 observations from Day 1 of Texans minicamp

Deshaun Watson looked as healthy and effective as he was last season. Getty Images

 

The Texans began minicamp Tuesday in the afternoon. Here are 11 observations from the first of three scheduled practices: 

1. The Texans hosted the Santa Fe High School football team on Tuesday. Coaches and players met the team after practice and took pictures and received autographs. Bill O'Brien announced the team would be donating $100,000 to the Santa Fe Strong Memorial Fund. 

2. Deshaun Watson didn't wear a brace or anything on his knee at the workout. He moved the same way he did last year before his season-ending ACL surgery and did plenty of dynamic drilling having to use his mobility. O'Brien joked after he didn't notice Watson wasn't wearing anything on his knee. 

3. Watson missed almost no throws. Minicamp possesses a pass-heavy setup so there was plenty of work for Watson. Some of the drills saw Waston hold the ball a little long but when he made his decision the passes were among the best Texans fans have seen. He had one miss in a simulated 7-on-7 drive that saw the offense complete a touchdown pass to end a seven play drive. The ability to quickly get the ball out will be key as Watson learns more about defenses and sees new schemes as his second year in the league rolls on. 

4. DeAndre Hopkins is effortless in almost every movement on the football field. He eliminated Kevin Johnson with ease in one practice rep securing a bullet from Watson. Johnson would get some very physical payback later in the practice on Hopkins. 

5. Keke Coutee wears number 16 which is one of the most unique numbers for a pass catcher in recent memory. Also unique to him is his ability to create separation against NFL talent. There were only a handful of drills where he faced press coverage and even then he got into his route. When there wasn't press coverage, he was open. Quarterback Stephen Morris missed Coutee on what would have been a huge play in a team simulation drill. Coutee against new cornerback Aaron Colvin was a joy to watch.

6. Braxton Miller looks more like a wide receiver than ever before. He had an amazing over the shoulder catch from Watson that looked like the two have practiced it for years. He won his share of matchups with corners and safeties in the drills. 

7. Rookie tight ends Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins each has some nice plays. It became apparent Akins can be a size mismatch against corners and safeties in a lot of situations. Thomas, who spent time as a wide receiver at Mississippi State, is fluid on the field and runs well for his size. Linebackers had issues against him. 

8. Andre Hal is absent from the workouts due to his diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Bill O'Brien noted the team would be with him every step of the way as Hal attempts to beat cancer. His absence opens the door for rookie S Justin Reid to play right away. Reid will be challenged for playing time by Kurtis Drummond, in his fourth year with the team, and former cornerback turned safety Treston Decoud. 

9. O'Brien praised Justin Reid's smarts after practice. Reid said he felt like the transition to the NFL was about the speed of the game primarily but felt like after the few weeks he has been in the NFL he feels more in tune with the duties and responsibilities of his position. In a red zone situation, Reid easily covered Will Fuller for a pass breakup. The safeties had a good day. 

10. Justin Reid has the line of the day when asked about playing against DeAndre Hopkins. "What is it J. Cole says? 'Long live the idols — may they never be your rivals" said Reid. He said it is great to watch players like Hopkins and now get to compete with them. He said a lot of the wide receivers work with him on how they attack defensive backs with certain routes and how he should counter those routes. 

11. Julién Davenport has altered his body quite a bit. He looks a lot closer to what you would expect from a regular offensive lineman. He is listed with the same height and weight as veteran Seantrell Henderson. They both are listed at 6'7" and 320 pounds. Davenport doesn't look far from Henderson or Kendall Laam. He said after the workout he feels like his body is getting to where he wants to be after a full year with the Texans. He mentioned "good weight" is a term he hears a lot and once he adds weight wants to convert it to muscle and drop his body fat percentage. 

Other notes

Rookie tackle Martinas Rankin is out of the workouts with an injury. Fox 26 reported it is a broken foot suffered in rookie minicamp.

Joe Webb worked as a quarterback joining Brandon Weeden and Stephen Morris as the quarterbacks competing for backup reps. 

Benardrick McKinney is likely in the best shape of his career according to O'Brien. McKinney said he is trying to increase his on-field game to better take advantage of the mental side of the game as it has slowed down for him.

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Tucker looks like the real deal. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Kyle Tucker finally had his breakout season in 2020. The 23-year-old flashed potential to be a legitimate five-tool threat. He slashed .268/.325/.512, swiped eight bags, and played above average defense. Is Tucker's performance sustainable? Not only that, but is there room for growth?

Hard Hit % - 44.5%

Barrel % - 9.1%

K % - 20.2%

BB % - 7.9%
Chase % - 26.2%

The first thing to realize with Kyle Tucker is the small sample size at the MLB level. Despite appearing in three separate seasons, he's played in a total of 108 games, which is obviously quite a bit shy of even one full season. He also has an extremely unique swing that you wouldn't teach to anybody, but it "works" for him. This makes him a tough hitter to judge, as it's uncomfortable judging mechanics that work for him, and it's uncomfortable judging numbers that haven't had time to develop trends.

Hard Hit, Barrel, and Chase numbers are unavailable for the minors, but walk and strikeouts percentages are. This creates the ability to at least look at one trend.

Tucker broke onto the scene in 2018 with a monstrous season for AAA Fresno, the Astros affiliate at the time. In 2018, Tucker slashed .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers and 20 steals. He had an 18.1% K% and a 10.3% BB% that season. In 2019, Tucker struck out a little bit more (21.6%) but also walked a little bit more (11.2%). Tucker's 20.2% K% in 2020 is more in line with his minor league K%, indicating he's adjusted to major league pitching.

Tucker essentially put the pieces of contact ability and quality of contact from his previous MLB stints together in 2020. In 2018, Tucker didn't strike out very much (18.1% K%), but his 3.9% Barrel % didn't strike fear in any opponent.

In 2019, Tucker had a 12.8% Barrel %, and his 92 MPH average exit velocity is the best of his three seasons in MLB, but he struck out 27.8% of the time and walked just 5.6% of the time.

In 2020, there's a marriage between the two. His K% and BB% aren't as good as his 2018 marks, but they're better than his 2019 marks. His exit velocity and Barrel % aren't as good as his 2019 marks, but they're better than his 2018 marks. Tucker became a hitter that was able to do more damage without sacrificing consistency.

Tucker had a xBA of .267, which is right in line with his .268 average. His .459 xSLG lags behind his .512 actual SLG, but it isn't a catastrophic drop. The version of Tucker Astros fans saw is essentially who he is, but how does he improve?

What really unlocked Tucker in 2020 was a change in his setup.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here he is on August 2nd against the Angels. As you can see, he's standing pretty straight up, and he has a "neutral" stance. Following the game on Aug. 2, Tucker was batting .200/.250/.300 with no homers.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here's Tucker on August 6th, just a few days later. He's started to close off his stance just a bit, but he's still pretty neutral, and he has a little more forward body lean with his torso. Following the game on Aug. 6, he was batting .214/.267/.357 with a homer.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Now, here's Tucker on August 10th. His stance is considerably closed off, and he's maintaining the forward body lean he adopted on August 6th. Following the game on Aug. 10, Tucker was batting .190/.230/.328. It would be the last time any of those numbers would be that low the rest of the year. He maintained that stance for the rest of the season, and he finished the month of August hitting .272/.333/.588.

The swing change allowed him to be a factor on the outside pitch. Tucker would pull off on his front side, which made it tough for him to keep balls fair on the pull side. He'd often yank inside fastballs into the stands down the right field line. It also made him uncompetitive on outside strikes, as he'd either swing-and-miss, or roll them over into the shift.

After he made the change, Tucker started steering inside pitches fair, and he was able to do something with pitches on the outer third.

The next step is finding a way to continue to diversify his batted ball profile. Tucker's pull percentage in 2020 was 47%. That's a higher pull % than guys like Kyle Schwarber and Matt Olson. It was only 1% lower than Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo.

The one dimensional batted ball profile allows teams to shift Tucker aggressively. Teams shifted Tucker in 74% of his at-bats. His wOBA against the shift is .304. In AB's where teams didn't shift him, Tucker had a .455 wOBA. The shift hurts Tucker more than most as well, because he hits the ball on the ground 39% of the time. Gallo and Olson hit it on the ground 32% and 35% of the time respectively.

Lastly, Tucker's performance on breaking balls leaves a lot to be desired. He crushes fastballs, as he batted .303 with a .574 SLG against fastballs in 2020, with a .292 xBA and .528 xSLG. His .208 AVG and .396 SLG against breaking balls aren't very good, and his .209 xBA and .340 xSLG don't tell a prettier story. His 32% whiff % against breaking balls is nearly double his whiff % on fastballs.

If Tucker can learn to be more competitive against breaking balls and learn to use the whole field, then he'll be a really scary hitter. If he doesn't, teams will be able to gameplan for him, and he'll see streaky production similar to other one dimensional hitters like Matt Carpenter and the aforementioned Gallo and Olson.

While the bat may be streaky, Tucker brings it with the glove and on the bases. He had 5 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in the outfield in 2020, a 0.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and he was plus-4 in Outs Above Average. His well above average speed and instincts give him the ability to be a rangy outfielder and dangerous baserunner.

Tucker had a breakout season in 2020, but there's still changes left to be made if he wants to be a breakout star and not a one hit wonder.

This is part four of an offseason series covering the 2020 Houston Astros. Be sure to check out parts 1-3 on SportsMap.

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