For Latino prospects, baseball 'in our blood'

September 17th, 2020

Baseball’s significance in Latin culture can’t be overstated.

While Latino players like Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuña Jr. and Luis Robert are dazzling fans with their immense talents, there is a group of prospects looking on, ready to continue the tradition.

“Baseball in the Dominican Republic runs in our blood,” Marco Luciano said. “It means everything to us, and it’s a way for us to find a better future for our families.”

There are 21 internationally-born Latino players on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list, including three in the top 20 -- No. 1 overall prospect Wander Franco (Rays), Cristian Pache (No. 12, Braves) and Julio Rodríguez (No. 17, Mariners). Luciano (No. 33) and Noelvi Marte are also a part of that upcoming talent wave.

Luciano, the top-rated middle infielder in the 2018 international class, signed with the Giants for $2.6 million. He appears poised to become not only San Francisco's first homegrown international All-Star since '03 (Pablo Sandoval), but also one of the top stars in the sport.

A quick glance at Luciano reveals a 6-foot-2, 178-pound shortstop. But don’t be fooled by his wiry frame. Plus bat speed helps Luciano generate plenty of power, and eventual 40-homer seasons aren’t out of the question.

As one National League scout put it: “He’ll get his.”

“Marco has a unique blend of plus tools and maturity for such a young age,” said Kyle Haines, the Giants’ director of player development. “He is focused and driven to be a great player.”

That drive is a reflection of his upbringing and culture.

It’s been ingrained in Luciano since he was fielding ground balls at his neighbors’ house as a skinny kid in the D.R. It was fostered when he moved a couple hours away to Santo Domingo and joined the Ray Baseball Academy.

“That work ethic and motivation come from my love of the game,” Luciano said. “I know if I want to stay in it, I have to work extremely hard.”

The 19-year-old has certainly impressed with his bat -- hitting .302 with 10 homers over 47 games in his professional debut, while ending the season as the youngest player (17) in the short-season Northwest League -- but some scouts wonder if he’ll be able to stick at shortstop for the long term or if he’ll outgrow the position.

That’s where the work ethic comes into play for a prospect who grew up watching José Reyes and now tries to model his game after Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.

“I am working as hard as I can to stay at shortstop,” Luciano said. “That’s the only position I want to play, and I think I can do it.”

As for Marte, the Mariners' No. 7 prospect, Seattle inked him for $1.55 million as a 16-year-old in 2018.

Marte spent last summer in the Dominican Summer League and has yet to make his official U.S. debut. But the community in Cotuí, D.R., is already looking forward to seeing him play in the Majors.

“Noelvi is a special person and player,” said Andy McKay, the Mariners’ director of player development. “He would be starting his senior year of high school and is competing with players who are older and more experienced. He has the ability to stick at shortstop and has real power in his bat.”

Marte has played just 65 games, but he hit .309 and led the DSL in total bases (134) and RBIs (54) last year. He then impressed in Spring Training and Summer Camp, where he was the youngest player invited by the Mariners.

The ability to hit has been part of Marte’s skill set for as long as he can remember. In fact, his earliest memory of playing baseball is hitting an inside-the-park homer in his first at-bat in an organized league.

From there, Marte continued to develop, and it was around the age of 12 or 13 when he realized he could eventually become a professional baseball player.

“I consider myself an aggressive, competitive player who doesn’t want to settle for less,” Marte said. “I want to reach my ceiling.”

Both Marte and Luciano are a couple years away from debuting in the Majors, letting Tatis, Acuña and others serve as the faces of the league in the meantime. However, when the time comes, both Marte and Luciano plan to be ready. After all, baseball is in their genes.

“Baseball in the Dominican Republic is more than just a sport,” Marte said. “It’s part of our culture. We are very passionate about baseball, and it’s something that brings our community together.”

They aren’t alone. Here’s a rundown of all the internationally-born Latino players on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list:

  1. Wander Franco (Rays SS), 19, ETA to Majors: 2021
  2. Cristian Pache (Braves OF), 21, ETA: 2020
  3. Julio Rodríguez (Mariners OF), 19, ETA: 2022
  4. Sixto Sánchez (Marlins RHP), 22, ETA: 2020
  5. Luis Patiño (Padres RHP), 20, ETA: 2020
  6. Marco Luciano (Giants SS), 19, ETA: 2022
  7. Vidal Bruján (Rays 2B/SS), 22, ETA: 2020
  8. Jasson Dominguez (Yankees OF), 17, ETA: 2024
  9. Ronny Mauricio (Mets SS), 19, ETA: 2022
  10. Francisco Alvarez (Mets C), 18, ETA: 2023
  1. Oneil Cruz (Pirates SS), 21, ETA: 2021
  2. Heliot Ramos (Giants OF), 21, ETA: 2021
  3. Brailyn Marquez (Cubs LHP), 21, ETA: 2021
  4. Keibert Ruiz (Dodgers C), 22, ETA: 2020
  5. Jesús Sánchez (Marlins OF), 22, ETA: 2020
  6. Geraldo Perdomo (D-backs SS), 20, ETA: 2022
  7. Brusdar Graterol (Dodgers RHP), 22, ETA: 2020
  8. Andrés Giménez (Mets SS), 22, ETA: 2020
  9. Edward Cabrera (Marlins RHP), 22, ETA: 2020
  10. Deivi García (Yankees RHP), 21, ETA: 2020
  11. Miguel Amaya (Cubs C), 21, ETA: 2021