SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – When Giants prospect Marco Luciano was not busy tearing the cover off the ball at stadiums across the Arizona Rookie League, he could be found at his favorite Mexican grill ripping the foil off of his favorite burrito and diving headfirst into the tortilla-wrapped delight.
Luciano is 17, and he has his first real job. Like most boys his age, he is still learning the finer points of driving and getting around on his own. He can scarf down food like a competitive eater.
But this is no ordinary teenager.
Luciano, who ranked No. 4 on MLB.com's Top 30 International Prospects list last year and is now the Giants' No. 3 prospect, slashed .322/.432/.624 with 10 home runs and 38 RBIs with 27 walks for the Giants’ orange team in 38 Arizona Rookie League games. He was promoted on Sunday to Class A Short-Season Salem-Keizer, where he is the youngest player in the Northwest League.
“My goal is to prepare the best I can and be a leader, be a face of the team,” Luciano said in Spanish. “I want to be in the big leagues in three years. That’s what I’m working so hard for.”
The Dominican teen is not just the top international prospect in the Giants’ system, he could also be the most important one. After years of missing on international prospects, the Giants could use a big hit, and Luciano can do many things, including hit.
“He’s just never looked out of place, even when he was going through some ups and downs,” said Kyle Haines, the Giants’ director of player development. “You think about his age and his limited experience and it’s been pretty incredible to watch his success.”
The Giants' international scouting staff first spotted Luciano sometime between his 14th and 15th birthday and later signed him for $2.6 million on July 2, 2018. He didn’t play in the Dominican Summer League or the “Tricky League” for newly signed prospects last summer, but he did spend some time at the club’s complex in Scottsdale after a minor hernia surgery.
The teen’s first real exposure to pro ball came during Spring Training with the organization’s Class A group. His first pro at-bat came against right-handed pitcher Josiah Gray, who ranks No. 5 among Dodgers prospects, in Minor League Spring Training.
“We felt like we have been pretty aggressive with him and challenged him at 17 with good competition in Spring Training and then Extended Spring Training so [Arizona Rookie League] was the next step,” Haines said. “People forget these international guys don’t play high school and jumping right into pro ball is a challenge. He has handled it.”
Finding and developing international teens that can sign as early as 16 is a challenge for all clubs and the Giants understand the risk first-hand. The franchise’s history of international prospects that never panned out includes names like Angel Villalona, who signed for a then-franchise record $2.1 million in 2006, Rafael Rodriguez, who signed for $2.55 million in 2008, and Gustavo Cabrera, who signed for $1.6 million in 2012.
The Giants signed Bahamian shortstop Lucius Fox in 2015 for $6 million -- a signing that sent them into the penalty for exceeding their international bonus pool -- and later traded him to the Rays as part of the deal for left-handed pitcher Matt Moore in 2016.
But the club has made huge strides on the international front in recent years. In addition to Luciano, there’s outfielder Alexander Canario, who signed out of the Dominican Republic for $60,000 in 2016, infielder Luis Toribio, who signed for $300,000 out of the DR in 2017, and outfielder Jairo Pomares of Cuba, who signed for $975,000 last summer, on the club’s list of Top 30 prospects.
Other international prospects signed by the Giants on the list include right-handed pitcher Melvin Adon (No. 15), outfielder Sandro Fabian (No. 16), outfielder Franklin Labour (No. 20), catcher Ricardo Genoves (No. 22) and outfielder Luis Matos (No. 25), who also signed last summer.
So far, the Giants have spent more than $5 million on 30 prospects since the international signing period started on July 2, a group that includes left-handed pitcher Esmerlin Vinicio, who ranks No. 23 on the 2019-2020 Top 30 International Prospects list, highly-regarded shortstop Aeverson Arteaga of Venezuela, infielder Anthony Rodriguez and right-handed pitcher Manuel Mercedes.
The club has also invested in its academy, cultural and English language programs along with expanding its coaching and scouting staffs. It’s all part of the team’s plan to increase its odds of developing future international big leaguers and avoid the pitfalls of the past. Consider this: Pablo Sandoval, who signed with the Giants out of Venezuela in 2003, is the Giants’ last homegrown international All-Star.
“When it comes down to player development, I think everyone wants to point to a smoking gun and say one thing is the difference, but it’s everything,” Haines said. “It’s scouting, player development, the analytics department, using technology to give us information and our cultural teachers. It takes a full team effort to develop all players and it’s even more magnified with the international players because they sign at such a young age. We are focused on that.”
For his part, Luciano has excelled in the classroom and on the field. The Giants love his quiet confidence and how it’s hard to tell if he just had two hits in a game or struck out two times. He’s literally living out his dream, breathing baseball almost 24 hours, seven days a week.
When he does sleep, he does it with a full belly. And there’s no doubt he’ll find his favorite food in the Pacific Northwest.
“Double chicken burrito with rice and beans,” Luciano said. “So delicious. I would eat that every day if I could. So, so good.”