Image credit: (Photo by Zach Lucy/Four Seam Images)
Marco Luciano’s first look at San Francisco’s picturesque Oracle Park came in January, when the 18-year-old Dominican shortstop was part of a group of prospects invited to the Giants’ minicamp.
Back then, the diamond Luciano hopes to call home one day looked larger than life.
“When I was there in January, I felt like the park was extremely big,” Luciano said, with help from a translator, “but now that I’m on the field it feels like the ball really flies in the stadium.”
It’s easy to feel that way when your first swing redirects a 95 mph fastball for a long home run against a pitcher with big league experience. That’s exactly what Luciano did in his first intrasquad action as a member of the 60-man player pool the Giants assembled in preparation for the 2020 season.
Not even a four-month shutdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic could slow the ascent of Luciano, who ranks as the Giants’ No. 1 prospect and No. 21 overall on the midseason Top 100 Prospects list.
While Luciano will not make his big league debut in 2020, he will move to the Giants’ alternate training site at the home of their Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento. There, he will continue getting as much development as possible during what will likely be a lost year for many minor leaguers.
Under normal circumstances, the wunderkind would have started the season at low Class A Augusta, looking to provide an encore to a tremendous pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2019.
Even before he’d gotten an official pro at-bat, the Giants were confident enough with what they saw from Luciano after signing him in 2018 to skip him over the Dominican Summer League the following year.
Facing a variety of differently experienced pitchers in extended spring training in 2019, Luciano quickly showed he wasn’t a player who would be easily intimidated or overpowered.
“I know he had a tough draw in his first actual at-bat against a pro pitcher in the United States, which was Josiah Gray from the Dodgers. Him and John Rooney,” Giants farm director Kyle Haines said of Luciano’s time at minor league spring training in 2019. “I remember he had a tough draw and his first couple of games were rough. People were saying, ‘Oh, he’s still young,’ but we thought, ‘Just keep pushing him out there and he’ll adapt.’ ”
Once extended spring training gave way to the Arizona League and statistics started being displayed publicly, the world began to understand why the Giants had such confidence in their prodigy.
After drawing the collar in his first two games, Luciano went 3-for-5 in his third game with a double, a triple and his first career home run. A day later, he collected four more hits, including home run No. 2.
From there, the AZL became the nightly Marco Luciano Show. By the time he earned a promotion to the college-heavy Northwest League, he had put up an eye-opening stat line.
In 38 games, Luciano hit .322/.438/.616 with 10 home runs and 38 RBIs. His stint with short-season Salem-Keizer was cut short after just nine games because of a hamstring injury that ended his season. Simply getting there, though, was further proof that Luciano was about to become the latest Latin teenager to jump on the fast track to big league stardom.
“Obviously, there’s a lot to like about the picturesque mechanics of what he does at the plate naturally. You love his natural ability to barrel baseballs and drive them,” Haines said. “I think when you see that combination of easy power with the approach and the swing—it’s a good-looking swing and he can drive the ball to all fields—that’s when you start to see guys play on another level, and he’s capable of doing that.”
Though his swing is among the most forceful and fluid in the minor leagues, it wasn’t always that simple. Luciano admits that, in order to unlock the power produced by his 6-foot-2, 178-pound frame, he had to retool his stroke into something geared to hit pitches with more authority.
“When I first arrived, I would only hit the ball to right field. I guess my swing was very inside-out. I had to learn to pull the ball, so they taught me how to get around the ball and get the power out of me,” he said. “Once I learned how to do that, it created a bad habit of flying open, so my shoulder was flying open all the time.
“I had to make an adjustment and learn how to use the whole field again and learn how to make those adjustments in my swing.”
Obviously, his hard work paid off. Beyond the surface numbers, Luciano was stinging balls as hard as anyone in the Arizona League. His best blast produced an exit velocity of 110 mph. His average exit velo was 93 mph.
That figure was in the vicinity of what Nationals sensation Juan Soto or American League Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez or Athletics first baseman Matt Olson produced in the big leagues in 2019.
Even if his swing did take some retooling, Luciano’s potential was obvious as an amateur. That’s why the Giants spent $2.6 million to add him as the crown jewel of an international haul that also included outfielders Jairo Pomares and Luis Matos.
“It was an impact bat—a fast bat—just kind of ‘Let’s go out and get the best athlete in the class concept’ on that one. You could project big power on that kid,” an international scouting director with a rival club said. “I didn’t have him as a shortstop. I thought it would be outfield because I thought he would just get bigger and stronger and probably play himself off of shortstop.
“That being said, he was probably the best player in the class of that group.”
There are still questions about whether Luciano will play shortstop. He’s still growing, and he has outfield experience in his background from his amateur days. The Giants will give him every chance to remain at the position as he moves up the ladder with fellow shortstop prospects Will Wilson and Tyler Fitzgerald.
If his bat continues to play as well as it did in the AZL, Luciano may push himself to San Francisco so quickly that his glove doesn’t have time to catch up. If that’s the case, the Giants will gladly make that trade.
“I think ultimately . . . his career is going to be what he decides to make it. He’s going to be surrounded by good resources. He’s going to get great opportunities, and his maturity, obviously, is very encouraging,” Haines said. “However driven he wants to be, how great he wants to be, that’s ultimately what his ceiling is. How great does this kid want to drive himself to be? He’s not going to be held back by talent or opportunity.”
Even after a successful a pro debut, Luciano is not content. He didn’t spend the offseason—or the coronavirus shutdown—resting on his laurels. Even a swing as sound as his will need continued maintenance, so he stuck to as much of his routine as would be allowed without access to the Giants’ minor league facilities.
He worked out at a local field back home in the Dominican Republic in small, socially distanced groups of roughly a half-dozen friends as often as possible. Then, he got the surprise call to join San Francisco’s 60-man player pool, which he considers the best moment of his very young career.
“It was definitely unexpected,” he said, “because I know I’ve only played one year and I never thought I would be considered to be invited to something like this after just playing Rookie ball.”
Luciano already has made an impression on some of the more veteran players in camp, including fellow shortstop prospect Mauricio Dubon, who gushed to San Francisco media about one of Luciano’s summer camp home runs.
“As soon he hit it,” Dubon said, “that was the loudest sound off the bat I’ve heard so far.”
In recent years, Latin American players like Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Juan Soto have blazed lightning-quick paths to the big leagues and have made impacts nearly from Day One. Rays shortstop Wander Franco—the No. 1 prospect in the game—and Mariners stud outfielder Julio Rodriguez are part of the next wave.
Luciano has paid attention, and is ready to do the same.
“Those guys are an inspiration,” he said. “That’s where I look to get my motivation and to work hard to try to follow their steps.”