PITTSBURGH -- Tucupita Marcano’s name is an homage to two critical parts of his upbringing in Venezuela.
His last name is the name of his father, Raul Marcano, who had a long career in independent baseball, including stops in the Mexican League, Western League and finally with Pennsylvania’s Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League in 2005.
The younger Marcano’s first name is the name of the city where he was raised in northeast Venezuela, a town which Marcano said through interpreter Gustavo Omana is one where “you don’t have too many opportunities to develop sports.”
Yet here Marcano is at the young age of 21, only one step away from trying to make a name in a new city and for a fan base that is hungry for a contender. The Pirates acquired Marcano, their No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline, as part of a three-player package from the Padres for second baseman/outfielder Adam Frazier.
“I was talking with my dad that maybe I could be traded, but I was prepared,” Marcano said. “I’m excited to be here.”
What did the Pirates get in Marcano? In some senses, a player very similar to Frazier: a versatile infielder and outfielder with a strong hit tool, but with more years of control. Marcano has more speed than Frazier, reaching 29.8 ft./sec. -- just shy of the elite 30 ft./sec. threshold -- earlier this season, when he broke Spring Training with the Padres.
“I learned a lot,” Marcano said of his two weeks in MLB this season. “The experience on the big league team was very important. I gained confidence.”
One thing that evaluators have spotted as the biggest lack in Marcano’s game is power, though it’s slowly begun to improve this season, as his ISO (slugging minus average, which indicates raw power) is at a career-best .152 this season in the Minors. He hit six home runs in 44 games in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, and he’s slugged one with Indianapolis in 15 games.
But with the speed and on-base strength (a .364 OBP in 2021), Marcano has plenty of other ways to make a difference from his usual No. 1 hole in the lineup. One such trick is a drag bunt he’s laid down to perfection a few times with Triple-A Indianapolis, and he even inspired catcher Joe Hudson to snap out of a funk with it.
“I learned it from my dad,” Marcano said of the drag bunt. “When I was younger, I was afraid to do it. I later gained confidence to start to use it a little more.”
“He definitely shows a little flare from the leadoff spot,” outfielder Jared Oliva said of Marcano. “Any time he finds a way to get on base, he’s going to find a way to do that. … You can see him 0-1 -- he even [bunted] 0-2 a couple of times -- where he sees that infielder back or the infield doing something, and he takes his chance.”
With the Pirates out of the postseason race and clearly focused on the future, could the 21-year-old see time at the Majors this season with his new club? To hear general manager Ben Cherington talk about it, it sounds like a possibility, but not a necessity.
Consider this: Before the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Marcano was at High-A as a 19-year-old -- still among the youngest players at that level. When he returned from the shortened season, he was with the Padres, then at Triple-A for the rest of the season. He’s skipped a couple levels, and settling into one for most of, if not the rest of, this full Minor League season may not be a bad option.
“He’s already really young for the level, so I think we feel like he’s in a good spot to be challenged developmentally,” Cherington said. “But really, really happy to have him and encouraged, and everything is lined up with what we thought we were getting from our scouting lens.”
Whatever way the dominoes fall, Marcano has already drawn interest in his first few games as a member of the Pirates’ farm system, and his teammates are taking notice of what a special piece he could become.
“He plays the game hard. He’s a good player,” Oliva said of Marcano. “He’s definitely a great addition ... to our [organization]. If you keep surrounding yourself with good players, I think that’s only going to help the collective whole.”