Some years ago, the Giants sent a prized high school hitter, who had received a very sizable signing bonus, to the Sally league for his full season debut following a successful short season stint the summer before. The player, noted for his beautiful swing and athleticism (he was a two sport star), immediately began struggling to adjust to A ball and the season quickly got away from him. Over the course of two months, the player hit barely over the Mendoza line and Slugged less than .280, while striking out at a prodigious rate. He K'd in just about one third of his PA and in frighteningly close to 40% of his ABs. Finally when short season play began, the Giants pulled the plug and sent this player back down to Salem-Keizer for a repeat of the level.
A few years later, the Giants sent another high school hitter to A ball, a high draft choice, big signing bonus, a kid with good power and athletic. He struggled. He made it through the year, but hit just .230 with an OBP south of .300. He also struggled in the field, making 35 errors in just 80 games. The next year he'd return to the Sally and make 40 more errors.
And one more, a high draft pick, high school hitter with a great track record for hitting both amateur and pro, showed up in the Sally with high expectations, and proceeded to faceplant with a vengeance, putting up, in a scant 125 PA, an almost unimaginable sub-.500 OPS before the plug was pulled.
But failing, failing badly even, in A ball was not the end of these kids' careers and didn't spell doom. The first of those players ended up playing an important role on two different Giants' World Championship teams, and will forever more be seen freeing himself of the clutches of Jake Peavy, and smashing his helmet to the ground as he rounds 3b in triumph. The second is currently a roster member of a major league team many think is the deepest and most talented in baseball (I'm looking at you PECOTA). And the last is the consensus best prospect in the Giants' system. (Respectively, of course, Travis Ishikawa, Charlie Culberson, Christian Arroyo)
All of which brings me to the subject of Lucius Fox, still just 18 years old, about to embark on his professional career for the Augusta Greenjackets, in the A level Sally league. Unlike Ishikawa, Culby, and Arroyo, Fox has no successful stint in rookie league or short season ball behind him, he doesn't even have a senior year in high school on his resume. Where the others stepped into their A ball season with some sketch of a track record, Fox takes the field with a giant unknown for a resume, a track record entirely made up of the part of the map that says "here be monsters."
Things that are known about Lucius Fox:
He was smart enough to game the system, opting out of his senior year in HS at the prestigious American Heritage High in Florida (alma mater to future big leaguers like Eric Hosmer, Deven Marrero, and Antoan Richardson among others). Returning to the Bahamas where he was born and petitioning the Commissioner's office to enter MLB through international acquisition, rather than the domestic draft, Fox thus earned himself some ~$4 mm more than he would likely have received as a top 1-2 rounds pick.
He has the potential for 80 grade speed, and tremendous athleticism to go with excellent whippy bat speed from both sides of the plate.
The Giants loved him a LOT! And they scouted him a lot: in High School, at the East Coast Pro Showcase in the summer of 2014 (an event the Giants are said to place a lot of value on), and finally, at a private workout in Florida where the Giants flew in some of their own minor league pitchers to throw against him, to get a better idea of his ability to hit velocity and advanced pitching.
He's never played a game of pro ball, he missed his senior year of High School season, and he's about to take position at the top of the lineup against A ball pitching, which will include a decent amount of crafty college guys.
The last time he played competitive ball was in the Dominican Prospect League (DPL) where he played to keep himself sharp while his advisor's negotiated with the many teams interested in signing him. If Manuel Geraldo's promotion from the Giants' Dominican complex to A ball is a giant development leap (it is), Fox's move from the amateur showcase DPL to the Sally is an extraordinary leap of faith. And the fascinating thing is: there's almost no way of anticipating how well, exactly, Fox will land. His future is fuzzy and out of focus, much like this video I shot of him last week! (but hoo boy, if you want to see some sharp definition on that cyclone fence, my iPhone has you covered):
Here, let's see if we can make that a little clearer:
I'll be honest, there were times I watched Lucius in camp and thought to myself: oh he's going to need to stay in XST and work on some of this. The first game action I saw of him, he repeatedly made wild throws to 1b and appeared to struggle to get his feet set under him to throw. The arm was strong but the arm angle (which Shane Turner has said the Giants are working on him with) floated around and the balls bounced, hopped and veered away from the intended target. Once, handling a poor throw to second, it seemed like his feet just stopped working as he concentrated on getting his hands in position to make the catch, and then he suddenly had to restart the lower half in order to get a throw off at all (which bounced away).
But at other times he looked fluid and magnetic, naturally graceful. The arm strong, on point, the hands soft. And you could see it: "ah yeah, there it is. They're gonna give this a try, I'll bet." He looked, in other words, very much like a young, athletic work in progress.
Offensively he showed bat speed from both sides of the plate and contact ability, with a swing that should be strong enough to produce line drives, though in the games I saw he mostly grounded out (and as seen above, unfortunately, struck out after a good battle). And, of course, he can run, he can RUN. Johneshwy Fargas is a daring and aggressive base stealer, but Lucius Fox is real speed!
What will this package all add up to? And how smart is the Giants' gamble to push him right into the deep end of the pool with a full-season assignment and, likely, a leadoff position atop Augusta's lineup? It's daring, for sure. "How does Fox look?" is likely to be the pre-eminent question asked of all scouts and observers who take in Greenjacket games this year. Can he hold his head above water? Does he faceplant? Or does he, dare we hope, flash game skills that allow the advanced athleticism to shine, to thrive?
If he looked, naturally, raw upon first look, there was something else that caught my eye as well: he looked comfortable. He looked at ease. He didn't seem at all tense or overwhelmed as seems so natural to most of us who aren't world class athletes. He seemed in his element. Happy.
Which leads me back to the top of this post. "Failure" at this level is not really failure. It's learning, it's advancing, it's developing. As long as, of course, this young man is mentally adept at viewing it that way. As long as he has the athlete's primary, or at least crucial secondary, possession: a strong mind. A mind that views the inevitable falls and fails as little more than odd and inexplicable happenstances, a lark. Watch him at the end of this charming clip. "What? You missed my glove?" he seems to say. "Why I oughta....." It's pretty precious and it's pretty essential to making his way through the challenges to come.
Keep your head above water, Lucius. Keep working. Keep laughing. Your first professional game with box score and all approaches. And for the rest of us, we shouldn't concern ourselves too much about those box scores for awhile. They aren't really the point of this season. Survive and advance, as Jim Valvano used to say, survive and advance. Learn first; produce later.
It all starts tonight in Rome, Georgia. For a few more hours, it's all possibility. It can be almost anything.