I’m as curious about Marco Luciano as the rest of you and we’re at least as curious as the San Francisco Giants, who know — on paper — what they have in the shortstop/eventual third baseman at the top of their hitting prospect list. It’s the IRL part of the equation where the view gets hazy. Maybe not for the team, but certainly for the rest of us.
Marco Luciano has an .854 OPS in 218 minor league games across three pro seasons. He’s just 21 years old. He’s got the arm strength for shortstop or third base, so he’s got a premium player projection based on position and results. So far so good. But then you think about his health and the number of live games he played in calendar year 2022:
It’s, uh, not what you want.
When you factor in the missed 2020 season for all prospects, he’s played just 176 pro games over the past three calendar years. A pandemic + lower back issues = a troubling development path. He was supposed to play in the Dominican Winter League after having recovered from the back injury that cut short his minor league season, but as Melissa Lockard mentioned last week for The Athletic (subscription required):
Luciano’s offseason plans were also interrupted by a back injury that limited him to just five games in the Dominican Winter League.
Lockard also likes to remind neurotic Giants fans like me that player development isn’t linear. Setbacks are part of the deal. I think most of us assume the setbacks will be, like, how to hit a curveball or identify a slider; but maybe health is one of those setback factors, too. In my life I’ve never met anyone who had back problems at a young age not have back problems as they got older, and when it comes to world class athletes, back problems seem like a telescope pointed at a constellation of performance-destroying issues.
But I’m not going to let all those worries dull all the shine from this exciting prospect. It helps that MLB.com via MLB Pipeline released this brief interview with Luciano today:
If nothing else, it’s proof of life. He can sit up! He doesn’t wince at the sound of “back.” I didn’t transcribe the whole thing, but here’s how it starts:
DAVID VENN: Marco, how are your winter workouts going? You’re with the team right now in Scottsdale... how’s all that going?
MARCO LUCIANO: Good, good. Right now, thank god. I’m recovering from a back injury that I had, and I’m working on that.
DV: Yes, I was going to ask you about your back. You missed almost half the season because of your back. How did that affect you and how has your recovery been?
ML: You know, it affects you a lot. For example, I love playing ball, but what I like is to enjoy it. When you have an injury, it’s not the same, because you don’t enjoy the game the say way. You’re more worried about the pain than other things. Now, when you’re healthy, you can see how beautiful the game is, enjoy it and have fun.
DV: So, we probably didn’t see the real Marco Luciano last year, because of the back injury?
ML: Last year, when I started the season, I started out really well, because I felt good. But then, when the pain started, it wasn’t the same. I was hanging in there, but it wasn’t the same anymore, because I was playing in a little pain.
DV: And now, about three weeks from Spring Training, what is the latest on your back right now?
ML: I still don’t have a date set to start hitting, but I imagine it will be soon. But I do feel really good and I’m working well to come back healthy.
Click on the video embed to watch, listen, or read (whole interview is captioned) and hear Luciano’s thoughts on:
- What it was like to play in the Dominican League this winter.
- If he wants to remain a shortstop for his whole career.
- His preferred jersey number and why.
- His baseball idol.
- And his goals for 2023.
The main component of Farhan Zaidi’s Master Plan for the Giants involves a successful player development pipeline. It’s been a tremendous letdown that’s delayed completion of the team’s rebuild and Luciano’s injury history certainly serves as a warning that even the next couple of seasons won’t give the major league roster any help (Kyle Harrison possibly being the exception), but since this is the offseason it’s okay to dream a little.
From a fan perspective, I think a strong farm system is needed, too, because people who follow the team — even just casually — can’t help but form some sort of connection with these guys who play for our enjoyment. Part of that enjoyment comes from watching them “blossom” before our eyes. Maybe it’ll all work out and Luciano will be The Guy in 2-3 years. If that winds up being the case, then getting to know him a little more today will make the culmination of his raw talents for our entertainment feel so much sweeter.