Sam Long quickly became one of the most exciting stories on the SF Giants this spring training. A Bay Area native, Long was an 18th round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Rays out of Sacramento State. After just one full season, he was released, enrolled in EMT classes, and began considering his life after baseball before ultimately attempting a return. While Long made waves at big-league camp, there is another comeback underway at minor-league camp.
The Giants selected Joey Marciano in the 36th round of the 2017 MLB Draft out of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. A four-year collegiate player, Marciano was a 6’6’’ southpaw with a loopy 12-6 curveball and low-90s fastball. He showed the ability to rack up punchouts, striking out more than a batter per inning pitched in three of his four collegiate seasons, but never dominated. Over his two years at SIU-Carbondale, Marciano recorded a 4.11 ERA across 129.1 innings pitched.
While he did not come from an elite collegiate baseball program, Joey Marciano quickly turned heads in the SF Giants organization.
There was reason to believe the then 22-year-old had more untapped potential than appeared on the surface. Unlike most draft prospects, Marciano was still relatively new to the game. Growing up in Englewood on the south side of Chicago before moving to Humboldt Park on the northwest side of the city, Marciano did not play organized sports until his freshman year. “I remember I was in high school, we were in lunch, and I saw a flyer on the bulletin board for tryouts. I’d always liked baseball but never played and decided ‘alright, I’ll give it a shot,'” he explained in an interview with Around the Foghorn.
After trying out as an outfielder, the coaching staff at Roberto Clemente Community Academy noticed his arm strength and decided to put him on the mound. He quickly improved and got the attention of coaches at John A. Logan College, a community college where Marciano would play for two years before transferring to SIU-Carbondale.
While he did not come from an elite collegiate baseball program, Joey Marciano quickly turned heads in the SF Giants organization. In his first pro stint at the Arizona Rookie League in 2017, he posted a 1.57 ERA across 28.2 innings pitched. The following season at Class-A Augusta, Marciano became one of the best pitchers in the Greenjackets’ rotation. He struck out 71 batters and held opponents to a 2.58 ERA across 80.1 innings of work before he was promoted to High-A San Jose.
In the California League, Marciano struggled for the first time in his professional career. His walk and strikeout rates reached their career-worsts, and he was moved to the bullpen late in the year. By the end of 2018, he had made 13 appearances at High-A and finished with an 8.33 ERA.
Repeating the level in 2019 as a long-reliever, Marciano had mixed results. He struck out 46 batters in 41.2 innings, the best rate of his career, but his 4.75 ERA left something to be desired. However, Marciano could not help but have his attention elsewhere, “My family back home had some financial hardship, and I couldn’t really focus on the game of baseball because the stuff at home was on my mind,” he explained. Unable to support his family on a paltry minor-league salary, Marciano decided to retire from pro baseball to return home and pursue higher-paying opportunities.
“Over the span of three months, I went from being around 92 mph to the point where I was throwing a bullpen and hit 97 mph… It’s stuck ever since around 95-97.” -Joey Marciano (SF Giants)
Back in Chicago, Marciano quickly began working a retail job alongside gigs as a DoorDash delivery driver. As soon as he felt more comfortable about his family’s financial circumstances, though, his mind quickly returned to the diamond. “Once I got that taken care of, I was anxious to get back to the game,” he said. When he contacted the Giants about his interest in rejoining the organization, they were happy to welcome him back.
As he began looking towards a professional return in the spring of 2020, nearly every baseball player in the country saw their career put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic. Forced to work on his game away from a team, Marciano looked for new ways to make up for lost time. When he talked with his friend and former teammate D.J. Snelten, the lefty currently in the Chicago Cubs organization recommended various pulldown and weighted medicine-ball throws that had helped him increase his velocity.
Marciano took the advice and began incorporating them into his workouts. Not knowing what to expect, he saw far more significant results than he ever expected. “Over the span of three months, I went from being around 92 mph to the point where I was throwing a bullpen and hit 97 mph… It’s stuck ever since around 95-97,” he said.
Long considered a pitchability-first prospect with an above-average feel for a breaking ball, Marciano’s heater was an afterthought. Now his fastball has made him an enticing sleeper to prospect analysts familiar with the farm system. Still, during his time at High-A, Marciano felt like his breaking ball lacked the bite it needed to be effective against higher-level hitters. Over the past year, he’s refined his release point to generate sharper break on his off-speed pitches.
Aside from his efforts on the mound, Marciano took the past year to pursue some off-field dreams as well. Alongside two close friends from high school, he launched the WEST DVSN clothing brand, named for the two streets (Western Ave. and Division St.) that intersected at the high school where they met. “We started that about 7-8 months ago, and it’s been a pretty good success. We are hoping to expand, but decided to start with clothing because we like style and want to bring a little bit of that to the world of baseball,” he said.
The brand is an expression of Marciano’s pride in where he comes from. He hopes to achieve his dream of reaching the majors but is unwilling to leave his home behind to do so. As he explained, “There are not many resources where I come from… I try and give back to the youth by telling them the bigger picture… I obviously had some things going for me being left-handed and 6’6”, but it is definitely possible if you start by keeping your head in your books and getting the job done in school. Then get a scholarship, play baseball, and take it from there.”
If you remember Joey Marciano from his last stint in the SF Giants organization, get ready for him to return with some added heat.
Near the end of our conversation, Marciano reflected on where he is today, “If someone would have told me ‘Oh you’ll go onto get drafted, play, and throw 98 mph’ I would’ve been like ‘you’re lying to me.'” It’s impossible to speak with the 26-year-old and miss the enthusiasm he has returning to pro ball. Many put their baseball careers on hold in 2020, but Marciano stepped away from the game and, when he thought he’d returned, saw the game step away from him.
As minor-league baseball contracted, organizations around MLB released dozens of players amidst the pandemic. Marciano is equally thankful the Giants are giving him another professional opportunity and confident he’s reached a point where he can take full advantage of it, “I found my love for the game again,” he said, “I’m a completely different player, and I’m sure the Giants are going to be very excited to see that. I’m just excited to be back on the baseball field around my teammates and coaches doing whatever I can to help my team win.”
When Marciano appears in a professional game for the first time since July 17th of 2019, the baseball world will have seen a pandemic, canceled minor-league season, a slew of releases, and unprecedented minor-league contraction. For him, it has been all that and more. After returning home for his family, he returns to the game reinvented on the mound and more determined than ever to represent where he comes from on and off the field.
It’s always difficult to create fair expectations for prospects. Without a minor-league season in 2020, that task is arguably impossible. But know this, whether it’s what he’s wearing on the way to the game or what he’s throwing off the mound, if you remember Joey Marciano from his last stint in the SF Giants organization, get ready for him to return with some added heat.