The San Francisco Giants added one of the top international prospects on the market last summer when they signed shortstop Marco Luciano. The 17-year-old is already exceeding lofty expectations.
The $2.6 million bonus it cost to the San Francisco Giants to sign Marco Luciano last summer is the largest they have handed in years. It already looks like money well spent.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Heliot Ramos’ hot start at San Jose. Not only was he among the league leaders at the High-A level in multiple categories, but he was also doing it while younger than most of his competition.
The same has been true of Luciano in the Arizona Rookie League.
Within his first week of action, Luciano was already producing impressive numbers, and he has continued to turn heads of late.
In his last three games, he’s gone 8-for-13 with three home runs and seven RBI, and he was just a few feet away from having another bomb as well.
Luciano ranks in the top five in the AZL in almost every major offensive category, and he would be the leader in many of them if it weren’t for recently promoted teammate Alexander Canario.
The scouting report on Luciano speaks to his star potential. He has 70-to-80 grade bat speed and he’s an above-average athlete with a chance to stick at shortstop. Even if he does have to move elsewhere defensively, his bat will play.
Before making an official pro appearance, Luciano was already ranked on FanGraphs Prospects updated top 100 prospect list. He’s currently the only 17-year old on that list, and his performance will likely have him climbing soon from his current spot at No. 84.
What he’s doing so far this season would be an impressive debut for any prospect at almost any level, but Luciano is doing it while he’s two years younger than the average player in his league. He’s one of the youngest everyday starters and he’s performing like one of the best.
To put his performance into context, let’s use weighted runs created plus (wRC+).
You can read up on its nuances here. In short, it aggregates a player’s offensive production, then adjusts for the park and league environments they play in. A wRC+ of 100 means a player has produced offensive production equivalent to a league-average hitter. Every one point above or below 100 says a player produced one percent more or less than the league-average hitter.
Luciano’s wRC+: 246!
Take a look at the following table, which shows where he ranks in wRC+ among players under the age of 18 who tallied at least 50 plate appearances in stateside rookie leagues since 2010:
That table puts Luciano head and shoulders above current MLB stars like Gary Sanchez, Juan Soto, Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. at the same point in their careers.
In fact, the gap between Luciano’s wRC+ and Sanchez’s in second place (58 points) is larger than the gap between Sanchez and the 20th best wRC+ (51 points).
What Luciano is doing is unprecedented. Granted, it’s also somewhat unsustainable.
His ISO of .511 is absurdly high. He has amazing power, but so do most of the players on that list, and none of them put up an ISO over .300 for a full-season.
His strikeout rate is also a bit of a concern, ranking second-worst behind Ramos on that list. However, he also holds the second-best walk rate in the group. The key for a young prospect is to demonstrate a good approach at the plate, and his willingness to take a walk shows just that.
Let’s run another experiment with Luciano’s numbers, just to fully appreciate how absurd his start to the season has been.
If over his next 58 plate appearances, which is equivalent to the amount he’s had up to this point, he simply maintained his walk rate and strikeout rate while tallying no more extra-base hits and just seven singles, his BABIP would then be roughly a league-average at .333.
And his slash line would still be .277/.414/.532.
That’s right, Luciano can go 7-for-47 with zero extra-base hits over his next 58 plate appearances, and he would still have a .946 OPS and a wRC+ that ranks among the top 10 on that list.
The closest thing the San Francisco Giants have found to a star through international free agency over the last 20 years is Pablo Sandoval. While the panda hats are cool, even his career is dwarfed by Luciano’s potential.
At the very least, Luciano is providing some welcome hope for San Francisco Giants amid a trying time at the MLB level.