Marco Luciano

Giants' Marco Luciano to be MLB's No. 1 prospect in 2022, analyst says

Giants' Marco Luciano to be MLB's No. 1 prospect in 2022, analyst says

Joey Bart is getting most of the headlines right now, but in two years (or sooner), expect another Giants prospect to be the talk of the town.

Marco Luciano, the Giants' 18-year-old shortstop prospect, is starting to gain momentum as one of the top players in the minor leagues, and MLB.com analyst Jim Callis made a not-so-bold prediction earlier this week.

Luciano began the 2020 season as the No. 37 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Baseball American is even higher on Luciano, placing him at No. 21 entering the season.

With the 2020 minor league season canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and major league teams allowed to bring 60 players to Summer Camp, the Giants decided to invite Luciano to San Francisco, and played him in several intrasquad games. In one of his first live batting practice sessions, he launched a long home run at Oracle Park.

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Despite playing against older competition during Summer Camp, Luciano impressed the Giants coaching staff.

"My favorite story with him was asking him to talk about four-seamers that have hop and have ride up in the zone," hitting coach Donnie Ecker said on a Zoom call with reporters. "He talked about it and shared his experience with feeling like he's always fouling those pitches off. Our hitting department created a way to talk about game-planning with him for that (pitch) and the next day he ended up facing Rico Garcia and he homered on it. It told us a lot about the aptitude there."

But it wasn't just Luciano's bat that caught the attention of those at Giants' Summer Camp. His defense at shortstop earned praise from Farhan Zaidi, the Giants' president of baseball operations.

"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," Zaidi said in July. "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."

[RELATED: Burrell explains what makes Luciano so special]

Luciano, who turns 19 on Sept. 10, tore up the competition in the Arizona Rookie League last season. In 38 games, he slashed .322/.438/.616 with 10 homers and 38 RBI. The Giants moved him up to their short-season team in Salem-Keizer, Oregon, and Luciano struggled, hitting .212 with no homers and four RBI in nine games.

For now, Luciano is training at the Giants' alternate site in Sacramento. He won't see time with the big league club this season, and most likely not next season, but if he handles himself well in a full minor league season next year, he could be poised to burst onto the scene in 2022, the year Callis expects the top prospect to reach his peak.

How Giants are developing players in Sacramento with no minor leagues

How Giants are developing players in Sacramento with no minor leagues

Kyle Haines has been dealt nearly an impossible hand. The Giants' director of player development has to advance the game of top prospects like Joey Bart, Marco Luciano, Patrick Bailey and Heliot Ramos, while also making sure more veteran players like Yolmer Sanchez, Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Triggs are ready to join the big league club in San Francisco. 

This all is happening at the same alternate site in Sacramento, Sutter Health Park, with the minor league season canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Haines is leading the operation with a long list of others helping him as well. The goal is to make this as much of a game-like environment as possible. The reality is, that's not very easy or realistic. There simply aren't enough players, especially pitchers, to form two teams for a full intrasquad game. 

"The best way to describe it, I think, is a glorified workout," Haines said last week in a phone interview with NBC Sports Bay Area.

To make the day-to-day feel as much like a game as possible, the staff simply forms a defense and a certain pitcher will throw to two, three or four batters. There's no traditional lineup. What the Giants will do is create impromptu situations like a real game for the hitter, pitcher and defense. 

What Haines has learned early on is the numbers game isn't the biggest obstacle. 

"Honestly, the big thing is just trying to keep morale up," Haines said. "It’s not an ideal environment on and off the field to play baseball. It’s not ideal and we’re trying our best. Everyone’s done great so far."

The Giants are doing their best to keep a loose, focused environment on the field. Off it, they want their players and staff to be as safe as possible in Sacramento. Players like Bart and Luciano are tested just as often as Mike Yastrzemski and Brandon Crawford. Perhaps just as important, the team has kept players as close to the park as possible, with as little travel as possible outside of that as well. 

If players already live locally in the area, they will continue to do so. But what about those who don't? The franchise took care of housing near the stadium and has made it clear how important safety measures are. 

In essence, they have a bit of their own bubble in Sacramento. 

"Basically our only interaction is together pretty much all day," Haines said. "I know there’s a lot of people thinking we’re being reckless. Personally, I feel as safe with this group of people and the amount of testing that Major League Baseball is doing -- I feel that these kids and myself are much safer here than being at home going into the grocery store and living their normal lives.

"I don't think we’re at any more risk. We’re definitely being extremely careful."

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When players do go through simulated innings and mini scrimmages, there's no way for you or me to see their stats. There's no Baseball-Reference for these "games." That doesn't mean the Giants aren't tracking stats, though. 

They're tracking everything, and sharing everything with their players. Whether it be exit velocity for a hitter or the velocity on a pitcher's fastball, they want their players, veteran or prospect, to know what they're tracking and evaluating. That creates some pride for players, and certainly helps the game environment. 

Ultimately, though, Haines doesn't want his players to get caught up in the numbers. What should be more important right now is the process. 

"Honestly, we want to make sure we could turn this into a good situation where they’re not worried about their stats going online," Haines said. "They’re just worried about the process. That’s one way we want these guys to look at it. We want you to make progress in your own development, not in the eyes of Baseball-Reference.

"Let’s be real, stats can be very misleading."

While top prospects like Bart and Luciano are advancing their games in Sacramento right now, that isn't true for a large number of players. Haines tries to call players who aren't at the alternate site as much as he can, but has relied heavily on his staff for that. This is hard enough with a large staff. If it were a one-man show, Haines would be glued to his phone calling 200-plus minor leaguers all the time.

Instead, a staff member will check in with about 10 or 15 guys throughout the week and report back to people like Haines. He praised the Giants' medical staff, strength and conditioning staff, hitting and pitching coaches and minor league managers for their collaboration.

There also is a large number of players who don't have the benefit of using the same technology or facilities as what is being utilized in Sacramento. The Giants did send equipment to a group of prospects, and Haines said a lot workout at training facilities that are able to give them the kind of data the Giants are tracking. But that's not true for everyone.

"For the most part, these poor kids, I just feel for them," Haines said. "They're basically just in the offseason again."

There's strategy and reason behind everything the Giants are doing. That's also true for who they chose to come to Sacramento. When looking at that list, it's full of top position player prospects like Bart, Luciano, Bailey and Ramos, as well as Alexander Canario, Luis Toribio and Will Wilson.

There are a few key names missing from that list, though. 

Pitching prospects like Seth Corry and Sean Hjelle aren't in Sacramento right now, but dont get it twisted: The Giants still have high hopes for these two, along with their other pitching prospects. This isn't about picking favorites. 

The simple fact is, pitchers have the benefit of developing through bullpens, tracking their velocity and spin rate with systems like Rapsodo. Haines recently talked with Hjelle and said the 6-foot-11 right-hander is game-ready right now. The same can't be true for a young hitter without live at-bats.

[RELATED: Giants prospects Bailey, Bart learning to play first in Sac]

"The key right now is these young position players can’t miss a year worth of at-bats, whereas pitchers we can simulate innings much easier than we can simulate at-bats," Haines said. "That's definitely part of the thought process."

It's not perfect. It's not ideal. The Giants are balancing the present and the future all at one field, at the same time. They have to be focused and keep it loose, with safety as the top priority. 

There's a lot to juggle right now for Haines and his staff, and they certainly seem up to the tall task to push the Giants' exciting young farm system.

How Marco Luciano impressed Giants hitting coach Donnie Ecker in camp

How Marco Luciano impressed Giants hitting coach Donnie Ecker in camp

The highlight of a three-week summer camp might have come from a player who never will see the field for the Giants this year. Early on, top prospect Marco Luciano hit a long homer on a fastball from Rico Garcia, a hard-throwing righty who made the opening day roster and has had a strong start to the 2020 season. 

That homer was the talk of camp for a few days, and on Friday, hitting coach Donnie Ecker revealed a cool behind-the-scenes story about the swing. 

"My favorite story with him was asking him to talk about four-seamers that have hop and have ride up in the zone," Ecker said on a Zoom call with reporters. "He talked about it and shared his experience with feeling like he's always fouling those pitches off. Our hitting department created a way to talk about game-planning with him for that (pitch) and the next day he ended up facing Rico Garcia and he homered on it. It told us a lot about the aptitude there."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

For an 18-year-old to walk into camp for the first time and homer off a mid 90s fastball is impressive in isolation. To do it a day after learning how to adjust to that pitch tells you why scouts believe Luciano could be a top five prospect in baseball by the end of this year. The Giants saw that potential at the plate and in the field, where Luciano showed the skills that can keep him at shortstop as he fills out.

[RELATED: Heineman brothers set to share MLB field at Oracle Park]

Ecker describes Luciano as "special" and told another story that demonstrates his ability to adapt. Luciano struggled against a slider machine one day and the next day came in eager to take another crack before doing anything else on the schedule.  

"He just asked for the slider machine, and it just lets us tap into the more important things beyond baseball, which is a little bit of their ethos and the ingredients that make them who they are," Ecker said. "I learned a lot in those 10 minutes around Luciano. There's a fire inside of him. He's got a really steely-eyed focus."