Marco Luciano’s failure underscored his potential.
The 18-year-old arrived at summer training with a reputation as a phenom, the youngest player invited, the hype already as a possible No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, an athlete more whispered about than seen after playing just in the rookie-level Arizona League and nine games with short-season Salem-Keizer.
Players and coaches were not sure what to expect from a shortstop who already looks the part of a major leaguer, 6-foot-2 with a strong upper body and, they would quickly learn, power in his bat that justifies the attention.
They didn’t know much about the brains and drive behind the talent until Luciano struggled. Taking swings in the cage while surrounded by hitting minds, Luciano chased a couple sliders early during camp. Luciano is not accustomed to being fooled and apparently does not want to get used to it.
“Most guys typically come in and they warm up, and we have custom planning drills for each guy,” hitting coach Donnie Ecker said recently. “He didn’t do any of that. He walked right in, he asked for the slider machine.”
“All he wanted to do was hit off sliders,” fellow hitting coach Justin Viele said last month. “He’s different. He’s awesome, and it’s been awesome to be around him.
“Hopefully we can be around him a lot more in the coming future here soon.”
How soon will be the question, but Luciano’s stint in major league camp did not postpone his debut. Every day was a showcase, several major league Giants admitting they wanted to see his batting practices.
The fellow youngsters took notice, too.
“I think all of the prospects that have been out here are tremendous players,” Will Wilson, a 22-year-old infield prospect, said last month. “But I think Luciano has hit some balls that have been absolutely smacked into the stands in left, that’s been really impressive to see.”
Gabe Kapler has said Luciano makes Oracle Park look small. Ecker called him “special.”
Ecker countered Viele’s slider story with his own personal peek into who Luciano is, a fastball this time the pitch that troubled the teenager. Many prospects have talked about the struggle of facing rising four-seamers that stymie big leaguers but aren’t seen much in lower levels.
“There’s a fire inside of him — he’s got a real, steely eyed focus,” Ecker said over Zoom. “My favorite story with him was asking him to talk about four-seamers that have hop and that have ride-up in the zone. And he talked about it, and he shared his experience with feeling like he’s always fouling those pitches off. Our hitting department created a way to talk about game-planning with him for that.”
The next day Rico Garcia was on the mound, his mid-to-high 90s four-seamers at the top of the zone. Luciano was ready.
“I think he homered on it,” Ecker remembered. “It told us a lot about the aptitude there.”
To so many around the Giants, the aptitude was the question because the skill and body were not in doubt. The twitchiness, the speed in his legs and bat, the arm strength, the hand-eye coordination, all especially impressive in a package the Giants believe can stay at shortstop as he grows, making him that much more valuable.
“The raw power is plus, and I’d expect him to develop even more pop,” Kapler said in a text. “I believe he’ll stay at short because he has plenty of arm strength, good feet and hands and a great work ethic. He will get rangier and more explosive as he adds lean tissue. The lower half could fill out and lead to even better body control and fluidity. He has plenty of work ahead of him, but the ceiling is really high here.”
The Giants talk often about players’ engines, the internal drive and firepower that keeps them running and gives them a top speed. How’s Luciano’s?
“He’s a Ferrari,” Viele said. “He takes at-bats against guys and it looks like he’s bored. He’s just a little different. … When he makes clean contact, the ball just explodes off his bat. He has this lower half that he really creates a ton of force into the ground.
“I can’t wait to be around him more, this has been awesome. And he’s so low maintenance.”
It is hard to find a Giant at any level of the organization who isn’t drooling.
“It’s really exciting,” farm director Kyle Haines said. “This is how you draw up an exciting young player — whether he pans out, a big part of that is going to be us, making sure we teach him well and put him in a good situation and him taking advantage of the opportunity. But this is how you draw it up.
“He did as much or more that was expected out of him in that summer camp. I’d say that even though they might not admit it, a lot of those major league guys probably were, out of the corner of their eye, making sure they were watching his BP and watching him move around. He’s probably impressive to them as well.”
Many of the major leaguers did admit it, though. Mauricio Dubon may have been the strongest publicly, saying one homer the prospect hit was “the loudest sound of the bat I’ve heard so far.”
How soon is too soon until that bat is playing real games at Oracle Park, rather than Sacramento’s Sutter Health Park, where he’s developing at the alternate camp? This year it will not happen, but could Luciano be the next phenom in baseball who can’t yet drink, alongside stars like Juan Soto, Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr.?
“As a hitting coach, you’re always pretty optimistic. So I’m just gonna say yeah,” Viele said. “… I’ve been thoroughly impressed. But I’m always pretty optimistic about players. But yeah, I could see him being a dude in the major leagues for us.”