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Minor League round up: Marco Luciano is catching fire

Yesterday’s action on the Giants farm.

Marco Luciano leaving the batter’s box after swinging Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Five Minor League Baseball games for the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday, with the Dominican Summer League having the day off, and only one of their Arizona Complex League teams in action. Let’s dive into it.

Link to the 2023 McCovey Chronicles Community Prospect List (CPL)

All listed positions are the positions played in that game.

AAA Sacramento (30-35)

Sacramento River Cats beat the Sugar Land Space Cowboys (Astros) 9-5
Box score

Just like the Giants did in their win over the Cardinals earlier in the day, the River Cats had a rough starting performance that was backed up by pure brilliance from the bullpen. RHP Drew Strotman got rocked quite a bit, allowing 10 baserunners and 5 runs in 4.1 innings, as his tough season continues — he has a 6.92 ERA and a 6.46 FIP.

But then the bullpen threw 4.2 no-hit innings, giving the offense the opportunity they needed to win the game.

RHPs Phoenix Sanders and Mauricio Llovera both had perfect outings, with the former striking out 3 in 1.2 innings and the latter striking out 2 in an inning. Sanders, who was only signed about 3 weeks ago, had struggled in his first few outings in the organization, but he’s been rock solid in his last 2 appearances. And for Llovera it was his 2nd-straight perfect outing after returning from the IL and a rehab stint. With a 3.46 ERA and a 5.07 FIP, Llovera is trying to get back to the Majors ... he played for the Giants last year, but isn’t on the 40-man roster now.

RHP Cole Waites (No. 15 CPL) wasn’t perfect, but he was very good, allowing a walk in an inning of work, with a strikeout. He’s still trying to find his groove after missing the bulk of Spring Training with an injury. He struggled in both Sacramento and San Francisco after coming back from the injury, but lately has been figuring it out — he’s been absolutely excellent in 11 of his 12 outings since getting optioned.

It was an excellent day for the 3 batters in Sacramento’s lineup that have spent time on the Giants roster this year. Most notable was catcher Joey Bart, who was optioned after finishing his rehab assignment, hitting 2-5 with a pair of doubles.

Prior to the game, Bart was 3-25 with no extra-base hits and 12 strikeouts during his latest Sacramento stint, so great to see him tap into a little power ... hopefully there’s more to come, as Bart has just 7 doubles and no home runs in 124 plate appearances across Sacramento and San Francisco this year.

Center fielder Bryce Johnson (No. 43 CPL) hit 3-6 while second baseman Brett Wisely (No. 33 CPL) hit 1-2 with 2 walks. Strong days as they try to stay reliable depth options for the Majors.

Also a nice day for another member of the 40-man roster, designated hitter Isan Díaz, who hit 2-4 with a double and a walk.

Díaz has been limited to just 5 games this year due to injuries, so let’s hope he can stay healthy and get going.

Right fielder Clint Coulter had the best day, hitting 3-5 with a pair of doubles, bringing his OPS to .775 and his wRC+ to 87.

And shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald (No. 18 CPL) continued his strong play this year, hitting 2-5 with a walk. He now has an .880 OPS and a 110 wRC+, to pair with very strong defense up the middle. He’s not on the 40-man roster, so Wisely is surely above him on the depth chart right now, but more strong games could make Fitzgerald a player on the Giants radar if they have an injury that needs replacing.

AA Richmond (27-32)

Richmond Flying Squirrels swept a 7-inning doubleheader against the Bowie Baysox (Orioles), 5-1 and 2-0
Game 1 box score
Game 2 box score

The Flying Squirrels haven’t been doing a lot of winning lately ... they entered the doubleheader just 4-13 over their last 17 games. So nice to see them tack on a pair of wins in one day!

It’s been a bittersweet year to cover the Giants Minors teams. Which is to say, they’ve been so good that there are now fewer good players to write about! I was really excited to write about Casey Schmitt (No. 3 CPL), Luis Matos (No. 4 CPL), and Patrick Bailey (No. 10 CPL) in these articles, and I might never get to do that again! Obviously a good problem to have though.

But thankfully, nature is healing, and an equilibrium is being reached. So it seems that right as we lose some prospects to the Majors, we get others heating up to fill the void. Enter shortstop Marco Luciano (No. 2 CPL).

We should have expected Luciano to start the season slow. He was shaking off rust after missing Spring Training and the first month of the year to injuries, and he’s historically started slowly at new levels. But now he’s putting the slow start behind him.

He hit 2-3 in the first game with a home run, a double, and a walk. Hard to have a better game than that!

Luciano “cooled off” for the second game, “only” hitting 2-3 with no extra-base hits.

If you want to know just how good Luciano is, consider this: he hits the ball incredibly hard, and he has pretty decent speed, so conventional wisdom says he should have a good BABIP. But his BABIP this year is just .234, which ranks 116th out of 126 Eastern League hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. And yet, even despite that awful and probably very unlucky number, Luciano is sporting an .819 OPS and a 116 wRC+.

The Giants are surely happy about his plate discipline, too. His 15.2% walk rate ties the mark he put up in rookie ball in 2019 for the best in his career. And after being a strikeout machine to start the year (again, understandable given the rust), he’s K’d just twice in his last 6 games.

Also homering in the first game was corner outfielder Carter Aldrete ... he only hit 1-6 over the doubleheader, but hey ... home runs, baby! He now has a .718 OPS and a 91 wRC+ as he tries to find his rhythm in his second stint in Richmond.

Not many other notable days on offense. Catcher Brandon Martorano played in the second game and hit 2-3 with a double. He’s now 5-21 with 2 extra-base hits since returning from the injured list. Second baseman/designated hitter Jimmy Glowenke hit 1-4 with a double and 2 walks over the pair of games, bringing his OPS to .643 and his wRC+ to 79 in 12 games since a promotion. And first baseman Logan Wyatt made his AA debut in Game 1, hitting 0-2 with a walk and a strikeout.

The pitching was absolutely awesome, with 3 very exciting prospects all shining. RHP Mason Black (No. 11 CPL) started Game 1 and threw 4 scoreless innings, allowing just 2 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 4.

Black recently hit a rough patch: over 4 starts spanning mid-May to early June, Black threw 15 innings and allowed 16 hits, 8 walks, and 13 runs, with 17 strikeouts. In his 2 starts since then, Black has pitched 8 innings and allowed just 2 hits, 1 walk, and no runs, with 10 strikeouts.

Keep it up, Mason!

Also limiting walks in an exciting way was the Game 2 starter, RHP Kai-Wei Teng. Walks are the only thing keeping Teng from a promotion to AAA, and maybe even the Majors, but he took a big step forward on Wednesday, giving up neither a walk nor a run in 5 innings, while allowing only 3 hits and a hit batter, with 5 strikeouts. It was just his 2nd start of the year without a walk, though he’s now had back-to-back 5-inning outings which is exciting.

Teng, who has a 4.75 ERA and a 3.74 FIP, is striking out 12.9 batters per 9 innings this year, which ranks 19th out of 435 Minor Leaguers with at least 40 innings thrown this year (remarkably, the Giants have 5 of the top 20). On the down side, his 3.8 walks per 9 innings ranks just 234th of that group ... on the bright side, he’s improved dramatically from his mark of 5.6 last year.

RHP José Cruz (No. 35 CPL) finished the 2nd game with 2 perfect innings, striking out 2. It was just his 4th appearance since getting promoted ... he’s had 2 excellent outings and 2 poor ones.

High-A Eugene (29-30)

Eugene Emeralds beat Spokane (Rockies) 11-7
Box score

Extra-base hits galore for the Emeralds, who had a whopping 8 of them on the day. Only one ball left the park, a big fly courtesy of second baseman Edison Mora, though he only hit 1-5 on the day. Mora is really struggling this year, so always good to see a player having a tough go of it hit a ball over the fence.

The best day, however, went to first baseman Victor Bericoto, who showed that he’s more than just a home run hitter. The 21-year old righty, who has more home runs than anyone in the Giants farm system, did it in other ways in this game, hitting 4-5 with a pair of doubles.

Bericoto is getting it done in every way this year. He has a great average (.316), despite a very modest BABIP. He has 12 home runs and a .239 ISO — 3rd and 7th, respectively, of 42 qualified Eastern League hitters. He has a good walk rate (9.2%) and a good strikeout rate (18.4%). It’s just all there for him right now, and the result is a .923 OPS and a 133 wRC+ in his debut year at the level. What an awesome season.

Catcher Adrian Sugastey (No. 22 CPL) also had a great game, hitting 3-5 with a double. Sugastey, who has a .687 OPS and a 78 wRC+ on the year, had been pretty cold lately. Prior to this game, he was just 2-32 with 1 walk in his last 8 games (though it’s worth noting that both of those hits were doubles, and he had just 3 strikeouts). Despite the modest numbers, there’s a ton to like about Sugastey right now: he’s a strong defender, his 14.5% strikeout rate is 4th-lowest of the Giants 45 Minor Leaguers with at least 100 plate appearances this year, and he won’t turn 21 until the offseason.

And a nice game for right fielder Carter Howell, who had been scuffling: he hit 1-3 with a triple and 2 walks, bringing his OPS to .751 and his wRC+ to 100.

Not very good pitching. RHP Nick Sinacola got the start and was very mediocre, with 3 hits, 2 walks, a hit batter, and 2 runs in 4 innings, with just 3 strikeouts. After a brilliant start to the season (6 games, 21 innings, and 2 runs), Sinacola has been awful (7 games, 24.1 innings, 24 runs).

But he was better than the 2 who followed him, as LHP Seth Lonsway and RHP Nick Morreale combined for 5 runs in an inning of work.

RHP William Kempner made his High-A debut after a recent promotion, and last year’s 3rd-round pick gave up a hit and a walk in a scoreless inning, with a strikeout.

Eugene’s dynamic closing bullpen duo kept up their excellence. RHP Mat Olsen pitched 2 no-hit innings, giving up just a walk and a hit batter while striking out 3, while RHP Tyler Myrick struck out 2 in a perfect inning. After a slow start to the year, here’s what Olsen, a 2021 9th-rounder, has done in his last 11 appearances: 16.2 innings, 5 hits, 1 walk, 0 runs, and 24 strikeouts. Wow.

Myrick, selected 5 rounds after Olsen, has given up runs in just 3 of his 21 appearances this year, and earned runs in just 2. He has a glistening 0.87 ERA and a 3.02 FIP (it’s a little unclear why his FIP is so high, given that he’s walking just 1.7 batters per 9 innings).

Low-A San Jose (38-27)

San Jose Giants lost to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Dodgers) 11-7
Box score

You know how I was talking earlier about how some prospects are really stepping up to fill the void left by the graduating prospects? One of those players is RHP Gerelmi Maldonado (No. 40 CPL).

It’s too early to know how things will look at the end of the season, but if I had to guess, Maldonado — who barely squeaked into our prospect rankings this year — will be in contention for the top spot among Giants RHP prospects next year (unless they draft a righty with their upcoming 1st-round pick).

Maldonado was an intriguing prospect when the season began, after posting a 2.27 ERA, a 3.86 FIP, and 13.4 strikeouts per 9 innings in the ACL a year ago. His season got off to a mediocre start, and then everything seemed to click.

The righty with a highly-intriguing fastball pitched 4 innings on Wednesday and gave up just 1 hit, 0 walks, 1 hit batter, and 1 run, with 8 strikeouts. With that performance, Maldonado now has the following line over his last 4 games: 16 innings, 6 hits, 2 walks, 2 runs, 1 earned run, and 22 strikeouts.

Have I mentioned that he doesn’t turn 20 until a few days before Christmas? I hope he gets to High-A Eugene before the year ends ... it would be so exciting if the Giants could start the 2024 season with a recently-turned 20-year old starting pitcher already knocking on the door of the upper minors.

Speaking of exciting pitchers ... LHP/DH Reggie Crawford (No. 8 CPL) was in the lineup, and hit 1-4 with a double. Getting to watch last year’s 1st-round pick hit has been a rarity, because he missed about 6 weeks to start the season, and the Giants don’t let him hit the day before, of, or after pitching as he still works his arm into shape post-Tommy John. But when he has hit, it’s been exciting: the super-powerful lefty is 4-16 with a home run, 2 doubles, and just 4 strikeouts on the year. Power is what you get from Crawford, on the mound and in the batter’s box.

But the best offensive day began to the position player equivalent of Maldonado: a young player who began the year as an intriguing prospect that eked onto the CPL and has been flying: shortstop Diego Velasquez (No. 41 CPL). Like Maldonado, Velasquez won’t turn 20 until the offseason. And after hitting 2-5 with a home run and a double, he now has an .889 OPS and a 145 wRC+.

Offensive numbers in Low-A need to be taken with a grain of salt, but when the player is 19 and has excellent walk and strikeout rates (11.4% and 16.2%, respectively), that grain of salt is pretty small.

A great day for first baseman/left fielder Matt Higgins, who hit 2-3 with a double and 2 walks, bringing his OPS to .875 and his wRC+ to 137. And third baseman Thomas Gavello was hit by a pitch for the 22nd and 23rd times this year, because of course he was.

ACL Black (5-3)

ACL Giants Black beat the ACL Padres 4-0 (7 innings)
Box score

A fantastic pitching performance in this one, courtesy of RHP Wilkelma Castillo (23 years, 2018 IFA). Castillo struggled to start the year in High-A, and has now headed back to the ACL, where he spent a chunk of time in both 2022 and 2019. Perhaps this outing — his 3rd in the ACL this year — can get him going, as he was elite: 5 innings, 1 hit, 2 walks, 0 runs, and 8 strikeouts. What a game!

The only other pitcher was RHP Melvin Adón, who made a surprising appearance ... he’s spent the year in AAA, and his transactions page doesn’t say he’s rehabbing. But he has been struggling, so perhaps this is just the Giants dropping him to a low level to find a groove (or to work with instructors at the Arizona facilities). Either way, he had an odd outing: 2 innings, 4 hits, 0 walks, 0 runs, 0 strikeouts. For a player who has lived on strikeouts and walks this year, that’s kind of funny.

Really nice days for 2 batters. Third baseman Elian Rayo (20 years, 2019 IFA) was the star, hitting 2-3 with a home run. Rayo is repeating the level despite having a .778 OPS and a 116 wRC+ in the ACL last year ... perhaps the Giants just want to see him improve on last year’s 34.9% strikeout rate, which was 7th-worst out of the 71 Giants Minor Leaguers who had at least 150 plate appearances last year.

And center fielder Cesar Quintas (20 years, 2019 IFA) hit 2-2 with a walk. Quintas’ repeat of the level is going dynamically: he’s 10-19 with a double, 8 walks, and just 2 strikeouts. At some point he’ll have to find some power, which he’s never had, but we’ll wait until he doesn’t have a 1.289 OPS and 252 wRC+ to worry about that.

Home runs

AA Marco Luciano (9)
AA Carter Aldrete (8)
High-A Edison Mora (2)
Low-A Diego Velasquez (4)
ACL Elian Rayo (1)

Thursday schedule

Sacramento: @ the Sugar Land Space Cowboys, 5:05 p.m. PT
Richmond: vs. the Bowie Baysox, 3:35 p.m. PT
Eugene: @ Spokane, 6:35 p.m. PT
San Jose: vs. the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, 6:30 p.m. PT

Reminder that all Minor League games can now be watched on MLB TV.