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Marco Luciano and the search for consistency

The current regime is counting on the last regime to save its bacon. Sustainable?

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Please note: this post is about position player prospects. Position players. Position players.

When Bobby Evans signed Marco Luciano, I’m certain he never thought that this player would make or break his successor. But Bobby Evans’ inability to manage the future has created Farhan Zaidi’s present.

Even though he signed a three-year extension, I see this as a make or break season. Yes, the San Francisco Giants will probably make it into the postseason again, we just don’t know how or when. Neither does he. His front office hopes that a confluence of factors generates a positive outcome that leads to a spot in the postseason tournament this season, but if that doesn’t happen, there’s no telling when. The team’s internal projections have missed the mark more often than not, so projection becomes indistinguishable from hope.

Of course, hope is not a strategy. Marco Luciano is the position player prospect they need at the exact moment they need him. They don’t need him to hit 30 home runs this year, but they need him to perform at such a level that we can’t wait for his first 30 home run season. How does he get there?

Hiring Bob Melvin and the components of the A’s active development coaching staff seems like a good start. The Giants have worked hard to remake themselves as the Moneyball era Oakland A’s — not because they hope to have a movie made about them one day, but because they’ll be able to string together a lot of success for far less than the cost of having to chase big free agents every year. Melvin represents the final piece of that puzzle. What can Melvin & co. do with Marco Luciano that will help him reach a new level of success?

In his latest podcast episode, friend of the site Roger Munter talked with another Giants prospects guru, GPT:

Obviously, subscribe to Roger’s Substack and listen to his podcast to get better insight into the Giants’ system, but just to summarize a couple of things from his work and this particular podcast episode, it goes something like this: maybe the Melvin staff works with Luciano to refine his aggression so that he swings earlier in the count at better pitches that he’s currently letting go by (presumably to draw more walks). Maybe Matt Williams’ years of experience coaches him up into a guy you don’t have to worry about at shortstop.

Whatever they do or don’t do, if Luciano doesn’t show signs of being That Guy this year, it’s trouble for the team and will almost certainly doom the current regime. In that podcast ep, you can hear two invested and informed spectators of the farm system express their concerns for the next layer of prospects after Luciano, Patrick Bailey, and Luis Matos (and Casey Schmitt?). That next group is still 2-3 years away.

From our perspective, that means if this year doesn’t really show improvement from the cheaper talent, the next 2-3 years are going to be about as tough as the past two. And that’s a scary thought because it’s really the best case scenario. With very few exceptions, the Giants have not been a team to get much from their farm system.

The past five seasons have seen the Giants beg, borrow, and steal to create opportunities at the major league level for injured free agents and castoffs from other organizations, but the bill has come due and now they’ve got to figure out how to make a meal out of whatever’s in the pantry. Is this David Villar expired? What does Joey Bart go with?

Most people don’t seem all that concerned with Luis Matos’ development, but he’s another part in all this. I am not concerned about Bailey in that even if his bat doesn’t come along, the defense will almost certainly still be there. But! This group has to hit better! They have to! They’re supposed to! And if they don’t, there aren’t other options on the horizon.

The team is only as smart, clever, and good as its prospects. The Giants can get by with pitching and defense to a point — and the past two seasons have been that point! Short of Donnie Ecker walking through that door, the Giants have to find players who can hit. A quick review of a possible lineup.

CF - Jung Hoo Lee
DH - Wilmer Flores/Tom Murphy
RF - Mike Yastrzemski/Austin Slater
LF - Michael Conforto/Austin Slater
SS - Marco Luciano
1B - LaMonte Wade Jr./Wilmer Flores
3B - J.D. Davis
2B - Thairo Estrada
C - Patrick Bailey/Tom Murphy

That’s not scary, but if Marco Luciano OPSes .750 or better through May then it starts to look pretty good. The Giants were the 10th-best lineup through May just this past season (104 wRC+), and these players all had an OPS of .750 or better: Wade (.856), Davis (.849), Conforto (.811), Estrada (.811), Yastrzemski (.788) and Sabol (.775 in 139 PA). I don’t think I’m alone in wanting Luciano to be at least as productive as Blake Sabol was in the first month of 2023 as quickly as possible.

Of course, it’s wild to put that kind of weight on a 22-year old — or a pair of 22-year olds if you want to include Matos. In fact, it’s irresponsible. It’s the kind of production the Giants must not expect. And yet, they’re penciling them both in with questionable or nonexistent backup options. If their plan doesn’t work, the knock-on effects could be disastrous.

If you think I’m concern trolling or needlessly panicking, consider that we just watched the Giants construct their roster in such a way that the dual failure of Mitch Haniger and Heliot Ramos hurt their lineup for a good chunk of the season and caused them to make some head-scratching moves to compensate, the net effect being less “Hey, we tried” and more “What the hell is going on?” There’s always risk, but the Giants are entering the 2024 season ready to risk it all on prospects from their historically unreliable farm system.

Short of 100 losses or an off-field scandal, I don’t see the front office going anywhere if Luciano (and Matos plus either Bailey or Schmitt) doesn’t take big strides. In the make or break scenario I stated up top, what I think “breaks” is the perception of the front office industry-wide. A third straight year of raising more questions than answering and a critical mass of doubt. But if Luciano — or even Matos — shines that might make up for a lot.

Teams know that fans return when the team wins. The Giants aren’t 1-2 players away from being a top-6 team in the NL anytime soon — but boy howdy, if they could make fans begin to believe that it’ll actually happen, and sooner than they think, that’ll be good enough, because it will have given fans something they haven’t seen in a while: players who can hit.