Why the next few months are critical for a top SF Giants infield prospect

San Francisco Giants v Seattle Mariners
San Francisco Giants v Seattle Mariners / John E. Moore III/GettyImages

In the very early going, top SF Giants infield prospect Marco Luciano is off to a nice start in Triple-A. These next few months with Sacramento are critical for Luciano's development as he gets a chance to stay at one level without the need to be pushed up to the major league roster.

Why the next few months are critical for a top SF Giants infield prospect

Luciano had an inside track for the everyday shortstop gig at the start of spring training. However, the Giants brought in Nick Ahmed as a non-roster invitee and he won the job with his performance in the Cactus League.

This is not a bad thing, either. Luciano was one of the final roster cuts in the spring and Giants manager Bob Melvin tasked him with making strides on defense. However, his slow start in the spring highlighted that more minor league seasoning would not be a bad outcome for Luciano.

Since the Giants signed the 22-year-old as an international free agent in 2018, he has dealt with several developmental challenges. This includes the canceled 2020 minor league season, nagging back ailments that have caused him to miss time over the ensuing three years, and being put on the 40-man roster arguably sooner than he was ready.

Of course, the Giants needed to put Luciano on the 40-man roster last winter to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Otherwise, he would have been scooped up by another team. However, the decision expedited the natural development that tends to happen in the minors.

Last year, Luciano posted a .789 OPS with 11 home runs in 242 plate appearances with Richmond before earning a promotion up to Triple-A. Perhaps, it would have been beneficial for him to see more time in Double-A, but given his numbers and his age (21), he had done enough to graduate from the Eastern League. That said, the need to get experience in Triple-A sooner rather than later since he was on the 40-man roster played a role as well.

After just 24 at-bats with the Sacramento River Cats, Luciano was promoted to the major league roster out of need. When a player is on the 40-man roster, it is tough to not leverage him when the need arises. That is what happened with Luciano. For the rest of the year, he saw time at both Triple-A and the majors.

The experience was good in the sense that it allowed him to get a feel for major league pitching. However, the movement between levels resembled much of the start-and-stop movement that has been characteristic of Luciano's career thus far.

For example, he was moved up to High-A after just 70 games in Low-A in 2021. That is a reasonable sample and teams have been more aggressive with prospect promotions in recent seasons. The righty bat earned the promotion after recording a .930 OPS in 308 plate appearances. In 2022, he was limited to just 65 games in High-A due to a back injury.

For now, the middle infield prospect gets a chance to stick in Triple-A for the time being. The worst thing they can do is bring him up before he is ready, risking the possibility that he gets shuttled between Triple-A and the majors. In a sense, the Giants did that with Casey Schmitt last year and it felt like a year of impeded development for the young corner infielder.

The Giants hope that Nick Ahmed can stay on the field so as not to promote Luciano sooner than they would like. If he remains healthy, Ahmed should continue to play solid defense at shortstop. If he offers anything with the bat, then it is a bonus.

However, Ahmed is not blocking shortstop in the long term. If the Giants believe that Luciano can handle it, there could be playing time there as soon as this season. For now, he has tallied seven hits in 16 at-bats and gets a chance to work on his development in Triple-A. It is the final step in the minors, and once he graduates, the Giants hope that he will be in San Francisco for good. For the first time in a while, he looks poised to see consistent playing time with one team.