Giants hope healthy Luciano is poised for impactful 2023


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When you watch the Giants go through their spring workouts, there's an inescapable feeling that a big class of homegrown talent is finally about to break through. 

Kyle Harrison was the most-watched player in camp from the first day and Casey Schmitt has been a standout since games started. Vaun Brown got his first taste of big league life, and the Giants kept Luis Matos around longer than most, in part because of how strong his approach was at the plate. Older prospects like Sean Hjelle and Tristan Beck look ready for a real shot in the Majors, and Grant McCray, Keaton Winn and others have gotten their feet wet. 

But the player who will potentially be the best of them all has mostly done his work on back fields.

Marco Luciano was diagnosed with a lower back stress fracture after getting pulled from Winter Ball and the Giants played it very safe in the rehab process, but Luciano now can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The rehab went as planned, with Luciano joining full-squad workouts before he was optioned back to minor league camp. On Monday, he faced 2022 second-rounder Carson Whisenhunt in a live BP session at Papago Park, taking another step toward his return to games. 

The Giants are now optimistic that Luciano will be ready for the Double-A season, and when his time in big league camp came to an end, manager Gabe Kapler reminded everyone that prospects of his caliber can move quickly. 

"We feel like he has a chance to make an impact at the Major League level as soon as this season and a lot of that is going to be based on if he's able to keep this momentum," Kapler said. "We feel really good about where he is physically and I shared that with him. Mentally, emotionally, same thing, and we talked about this. He's just in a really positive frame of mind and happy to be out on a baseball field."

If you didn't know that Luciano was being held back, you wouldn't have been able to tell. He was all smiles throughout camp, attacking the tedious rehab process that started with day after day of taking grounders without being allowed to throw. Having two back issues in a year is scary for any prospect, but Luciano has quickly put that behind him. The Giants are anxious to see what he can do now that he's back to full health.

"You start to wonder, when is the last time he really has been 100 percent?" farm director Kyle Haines said. "Some of these nagging injuries, guys just try to play through them. They know you don't get to the big leagues by being in the rehab group. Sometimes young players struggle about when to report injuries and how to dialogue what they're really feeling, but it looks like he's probably healthy for the first time in a while."

Luciano still may be behind others in late March, but not by much. If he's able to join Double-A Richmond at the start of the year, he'll try to build off a solid showing in High-A. Luciano had a .798 OPS with 10 homers in 57 games while continuing to play shortstop.

The Giants continue to see growth in his approach at the plate and are impressed by how his body has matured over the last year. Now it's just about staying healthy so he can finally reach his potential. 

When Luciano was optioned, Kapler assured him that he would have every resource he needed at the minor league facility. They discussed how much information was being thrown at the young shortstop, and Luciano assured Kapler that he was comfortable with everything the staff was asking. Then he was on his way, ready to attack Double-A and try to push for a late 2023 debut. 

Haines noted that Luciano isn't just two promotions from the big leagues, he's also now on the 40-man roster. Now, it's up to Luciano to force the issue. 

"When Marco is on the field he's really good," Haines said. "One of the hurdles to his development has always been these lost reps -- whether it because of (the pandemic) or the nagging injuries -- so we've got to get him reps, but when he's on the field he's really good and he's getting better every time he's out there. Every month he's on the field, it seems like he gets better. Even when he goes to a new level and takes his lumps right away, he makes adjustments and he grows.

"There's a reason every level of the minor leagues exists. Marco is really talented but he needs growth at each level and we're seeing growth this year even through the rehab process."

--- Matos and Patrick Bailey were the latest to be sent to minor league camp. Both had good springs. 

Matos has bulked up and showed a solid approach in games and during BP. There's little doubt that Bailey has the potential to be the best defensive catcher in the organization, but he needs to close the gap in his splits. The switch-hitter had a .851 OPS from the left side but was .460 from the right side. Much of his work this spring was on his right-handed swing. 

"We made some good adjustments and we're still making those adjustments on the right side," he said. "We're just kind of building off of the finish last year and continuing to swing from the left side and hopefully bump those numbers up from the right."

Bailey is a natural right-handed hitter, but he ran into an odd problem last year. There just aren't as many left-handed starters in the minors, so Bailey only got 60 at-bats from the right side. He said his focus this year will be on doing more cage work from that side since it's harder to replicate in games. 

A first-round draft pick in 2020, Bailey has slid down prospect lists, but the Giants are still high on him in large part because of his glove. The 23-year-old was a minor league Gold Glove Award winner last season, although he didn't realize right away that he had been recognized.

"I didn't even know I won it," he said, laughing. "(Craig Albernaz) shot me a text to say congrats and I was like, 'What are you talking about?' "

Bailey had a very good reason for being out of the loop. His wife, Leigha, gave birth to their first child, a daughter, in September.

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--- The Giants are getting closer to having their infield back together. David Villar (hip flexor strain) will return to the lineup on Saturday and the team announced that Brandon Crawford (left knee inflammation) "is feeling good" and will resume baseball work this weekend. 

--- Cole Waites (right lat strain) will throw a second live BP session this weekend and then return to games. Luke Jackson (Tommy John rehab) is ticking bullpen sessions off and expects to throw a live BP before camp breaks. Stephen Piscotty (right oblique) will be reevaluated this weekend. Austin Slater is sidelined by calf and hamstring tightness. Finally, Thomas Szapucki (left arm neuropathy) will see a specialist next week.

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