Giants

Top prospect Marco Luciano excites Giants with his shortstop defense

Giants

On the first weekend of summer camp, a couple of Giants were walking through the dugout when they heard a surprisingly loud crack coming from the batter's box. They watched the new hitter launch line drives into the gaps, and then a homer three-quarters of the way up the bleachers. They turned and found a team employee watching a few feet away. 

"Who is that?" the players asked. "Is that the teenager?"

The teenager --  he's 18, to be exact -- is one of those players who just sounds different when he's swinging the bat. Marco Luciano's batting practice sessions were appointment viewing for coaches and the media, and he had one of the highlights of camp with an easy homer in a simulated game. 

Luciano potentially is the kind of hitter who can change the whole look of a lineup, but what makes him such an exciting prospect is that he is currently providing that punch from shortstop. 

A player who swings the bat like Luciano will be valuable anywhere. But put him at shortstop every day and, well, you have Francisco Lindor or Javy Baez. You have a legitimate MVP candidate. The Giants brought Luciano to camp to keep accelerating his development, and they plan to aggressively push him through the upper levels of the minors. They also plan to have him arrive as a shortstop, which never is a guarantee when you're talking about a teenager who already fills out the uniform. 

 

"He's been so impressive, and one of the things you talk about a lot with young shortstops, especially guys that have his kind of physicality at a young age, is whether they're going to be able to stick at short," Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. "From what we've seen, from what our infield coaches have seen, and what he's shown out on the field, we think he's going to be a shortstop even as he works his way up to the big leagues, so that's been really exciting to see."

There's a reason this is even a question. Lindor is 5-foot-11 and Baez is six feet tall, the same listed height as A's MVP candidate Marcus Semien and young Giants shortstop/utility man Mauricio Dubon. Fernando Tatis Jr. is 6-foot-3, but there has been talk early in his career of him ultimately playing center field. 

There are plenty of bigger shortstops still succeeding, though. Carlos Correa is 6-foot-4 and Trevor Story is a solid 6-foot-2. You don't have to move to third or the outfield just because you outgrow the traditional view of a good defensive shortstop. The Giants know that better than anyone. Brandon Crawford is listed at 6-foot-1 and 223 pounds, but he moves like a ballet dancer around the bag, and he has three Gold Gloves because of it.  

When infield coach Kai Correa watched Luciano -- listed at 6-foot-2 and 178 pounds -- this summer, he didn't focus on his frame. He looked at the way he moved. 

"Size can be directly associated with twitch, but Luciano has an ability on his feet and with his hands and his arm strength to play shortstop that supersedes his baseline frame," Correa said. "He's unique in that way. That's why you can't make that assumption based on frame. When you see him, he moves fluidly, he moves intuitively, he's got more than enough explosiveness."

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Correa, Gabe Kapler's bench coach, came to San Francisco with a reputation as one of the best young defensive coaches in the game. Part of what has made him successful is that he doesn't adhere to traditional methods or ideals. He spent much of his spring, for example, trying to turn Austin Slater, your traditional outfielder, into a passable option at second base. 

As much as he liked what he saw with Luciano's feet, Correa said it's the hands that can keep the top prospect at shortstop. 

"He's going to have a chance to play that position for a long time," Correa said. "A lot of the time with bigger guys they become destined for third because they don't have the same adjustability and gracefulness with their hands as guys who play lower to the ground.

 

"We threw a bunch at him and he can adapt and adapt, and that's been one of the most impressive things."

Luciano mostly worked out with a morning group that was filled with other top prospects, but he said that occasionally veterans were able to come over and offer advice, particularly on his positioning. "Those are all the things that I'm absorbing right now," he said on a Zoom call with beat writers early in camp. There are other adjustments to be made now over two months at the alternate camp in Sacramento. 

"We're working on slowing me down a little bit," Luciano said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. "When I field the ball, I am a little too fast. They're trying to work with me to slow me down."

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That's a key for any young shortstop, but in the big picture, Luciano is on the fast track. He played 47 games at two rookie levels last year, hitting .302 with a .417 on-base percentage, 10 homers and 13 doubles. It's unclear what the minor league season will look like next year, but Luciano will skip at least one level after spending this season as part of the player pool, and possibly more.

Wherever Luciano ends up next season, there's no doubt he'll remain in the center of the infield. 

"When we see (his legs) filling out, we actually see the potential for more explosiveness right and left, and to the middle of the diamond, and maybe even a little bit more explosiveness with the arm," manager Gabe Kapler said. "As he learns how to lift in the weight room, and as his lower half matures, I actually think he's going to get stronger, and I'm confident that he can stay at shortstop."