Four games out of first place but stagnating on offense, the Giants are in need of a boost. And, perhaps not liking what they're seeing on the trade market, they've decided to turn within. NBC Sports Bay Area reports that Marco Luciano will be called up for Wednesday's game against the Athletics.
Prospect hounds are well acquainted with Luciano already. He's been a fixture on top-100 lists for the past four years, hyped as a stud-in-waiting from the time he was 17 years old. But just because he's gotten the hype doesn't mean he's lived up to it, and judging from his work in the upper levels of the minors, this promotion is surprising indeed.
Granted, things have gotten better after a miserable start at Double-A. Over his past 32 games, which includes a recent bump up to Triple-A, Luciano is batting .305 (36 for 118) with eight home runs. That's compared to a .235 batting average overall. But the strikeout rate has remained high amid the turnaround, currently checking in at 29.7 percent. Meanwhile, the power he's long been touted as having still appears to be fledgling. He did hit a 428-foot home run Tuesday with an exit velocity of 110 mph, so it's there. It's within his capabilities. But is he ready to access it consistently? I don't have insight into all of the Giants' internal data, but I do have my doubts.
This is to say nothing of Luciano's long-term value or chances of having a successful career. He's only 21, and injuries have had something to do with his underwhelming stat lines over the years. Even at the start of this year, he was sidelined by back issues, which have been the most common culprit.
But those lost reps are all the more reason to question why he's getting the call now, after only six games at the Triple-A level. It seems to me like the Giants are basing the decision on very limited, and in many ways conflicting, information. And for all of Luciano's prospect pedigree, it's a lot to put on a 21-year-old. They tried the same with another 21-year-old who had barely gotten his feet wet at Triple-A, Luis Matos, and you see how that's worked out. (Matos' numbers were far better than Luciano's, too.)
Sometimes, prospects as talented as Luciano can fall into a rut in the minors, and it's only after they reach the majors that they unfurl their full potential. Certainly, this promotion could play out that way, but to me, it's hoping against hope. More evidence points to the likelihood that the Giants rushed him, and a time when prospects are seemingly needing longer to adjust to the big leagues, I wouldn't say I'm optimistic about Luciano's chances of making a substantive impact in Fantasy this year.
As deep as shortstop is, I wouldn't bother with him outside of leagues that require a third middle infielder (such as standard Rotisserie). And even then, I might prefer to stash away some of my ...
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues, excluding the all-too-obvious Eury Perez.)
Jonathan Aranda, 2B, Rays
2022 minors: .318 BA (403 AB), 18 HR, .915 OPS, 45 BB, 100 K
2023 minors: .349 BA (289 AB), 17 HR, 1.051 OPS, 53 BB, 68 K
Another three hits for Aranda Tuesday brought his batting average up to a season-high .349, and it's well over .400 since the start of June (38 games in all). He's gotten just 15 at-bats at the major-league level during that time, but they've all come in a starting capacity. When he's up, the Rays play him, but they don't seem to have room for him when everyone is healthy.
You know what could remedy that? Trade deadline, baby. The Rays are an obvious contender and have real needs, having slipped behind the Orioles to begin the second half. At 25, Aranda is ready for prime time, and if he's superfluous to the Rays, no matter how much they may like them, he may serve them best as trade bait. Without a doubt, he'd be inserted as a starter for his new team, boasting exit velocities that back up his Triple-A numbers completely.
Michael Busch, 2B, Dodgers
2023 majors: .200 BA (45 AB), 3 2B, .561 OPS, 6 BB, 16 K
2023 minors: .307 BA (257 AB), 15 HR, 1.002 OPS, 50 BB, 60 K
Who's another 25-year-old on an obvious contender who's been crushing the highest levels of the minors for quite some time now but can't seem to get an honest look in the majors? Yes sir, it's Busch, whose best role for the Dodgers right now may be as a trade chip. Like Aranda, you won't find many flaws in his game offensively. He strikes out a little more and doesn't hit the ball quite as hard, but we're talking a matter of degrees for both. His overall profile depends more on his home run output, but that's not really in question. He just needs his shot, and surely he'd have gotten it by now with most any other organization. If you want to preempt a potential mad dash to the waiver wire, you add him now.
Matt Mervis, 1B, Cubs
2023 majors: .167 BA (90 AB), 3 HR, .531 OPS, 8 BB, 32 K
2023 minors: .290 BA (176 AB), 9 HR, .951 OPS, 38 BB, 42 K
Last week, I pointed out that Mervis had begun to trend every day on Twitter again, just as he had in the weeks leading up to his initial call-up. More recently, the calls for his return have quieted down again as the fanbase shifts its attention to the rumor mill, but the 25-year-old is still showing well at Triple-A Iowa, batting .294 (25 for 85) with three homers and a .446 on-base percentage in 26 games since being sent down. Meanwhile, the big club's latest solution to first base is to play Cody Bellinger there, which takes away some of his defensive value. It's likely a short-term situation, though. Bellinger is putting up MVP-caliber numbers and is poised to walk after the season, making him a prime trade candidate. As with Aranda and Busch, August may be shaping up to be a big month for Mervis.
Ronny Mauricio, SS, Mets
2022 minors: .259 BA (509 AB), 26 HR, 20 SB, .768 OPS, 24 BB, 125 K
2023 minors: .297 BA (364 AB), 16 HR, 15 SB, .852 OPS, 21 BB, 67 K
If you're of the impression Mauricio has slowed down at Triple-A, perhaps you didn't see the home run he hit Saturday, a 440-foot walk-off blast deep into the foliage behind the bleachers at Triple-A Syracuse.
It's another indication of the raw power that's not totally reflected by the numbers, as good as they are. Much of the conversation surrounding Mauricio this year has focused on his reduced strikeout rate and improved batting average, which indeed have taken him to another level as a prospect, but his best trait remains the way he leverages his long limbs for loud contact -- the kind that could lead to big home run totals in the majors. It's been on display lately with five home runs in July. Meanwhile, he continues to make starts in left field, so if the Mets find a taker for Tommy Pham at the deadline, there's a ready-made spot for Mauricio. And even if Pham stays put, Mauricio could still get a look as a super utility player.
Heston Kjerstad, OF, Orioles
2022 minors: .309 BA (243 AB), 5 HR, .851 OPS, 29 BB, 64 K
2023 minors: .322 BA (314 AB), 16 HR, .969 OPS, 26 BB, 59 K
There has been some talk of Kjerstad serving as a trade chip for the Orioles, and perhaps if they wanted to make a big splash for someone like Dylan Cease, he would be their most logical route to doing that. But unlike Aranda and Busch, he hasn't overstayed his welcome in the minors. While he is 24, he only climbed beyond A-ball this year, so the Orioles can credibly claim that the best place for him is the minor leagues. Still, with how thoroughly he's dominated the upper levels, delivering on his power potential while demonstrating surprisingly little swing-and-miss, I'm convinced he could help a big-league lineup now. A trade might hasten his arrival, but I'd bank on it happening in August either way.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Jackson Chourio, OF, Brewers
2022 minors: .288 BA (400 AB), 20 HR, 16 SB, .880 OPS, 32 BB, 118 K
2023 minors: .278 BA (338 AB), 14 HR, 29 SB, .792 OPS, 26 BB, 74 K
Chourio's first half figures to go down as just the latest example why you shouldn't fixate on minor-league numbers. He's a prodigious talent. It's why he began the year at Double-A as a recently-turned 19-year-old. Struggles are to be expected with that assignment at that age, and those struggles were likely exacerbated by the experimental use of pre-tacked balls in the Southern League. But the experiment is over, the balls are normal again, and Chourio is straight up crushing them, batting .460 (23 for 50) with four homers, six steals and only six strikeouts in his past 11 games. It's the sort of outburst that could propel him to Triple-A in short order, and once he's there, a major-league promotion isn't out of the question. Chourio remains on the short list of prospect in contention for the No. 1 overall spot.
Termarr Johnson, 2B, Pirates
2022 minors: .222 BA (63 AB), 1 HR, 6 SB, .731 OPS, 16 BB, 21 K
2023 minors: .256 BA (234 AB), 13 HR, 5 SB, .893 OPS, 63 BB, 83 K
Players who are 5-feet-8 and as far down the defensive spectrum as second base aren't normally drafted fourth overall, as Johnson was last year, but unlike most, he was known to swing the bat with surgical precision. So it had to be alarming when he kicked off his first full minor-league season by batting .227 (44 for 194) with a 30.9 percent strikeout rate through 58 games.
Things have turned on a dime since then. Over his 12 past games, Johnson is batting .400 (16 for 40) with a whopping six home runs. He has more than twice as many walks (13) as strikeouts (six) during that stretch, and the rate for the latter is down to 10.9 percent. What can't be overlooked here is that he's still 19 years old, and for as long as he struggled, it's to his credit he has a .419 on-base percentage. Fair to say things are looking up.
Connor Phillips, SP, Reds
2022 minors: 5-8, 3.78 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 109 2/3 IP, 66 BB, 150 K
2023 minors: 3-2, 3.17 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 82 1/3 IP, 39 BB, 134 K
Andrew Abbott's promotion to the majors in early June cleared the way for another Reds farmhand to claim the minor-league lead in strikeouts. Phillips recently added another 11 to his tally, throwing seven shutout innings in what was his best start in four chances for Triple-A Louisville.
The right-hander is a more conventional prospect than Abbott, featuring a fastball that peaks in the high 90s, but what really separates it as a swing-and-miss offering is the way he elevates it, much like Abbott. The Reds rotation is a clear weakness at present, though at some point, they will welcome back Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo. Will Phillips overcome his control issues to earn a call-up before then?
Wikelman Gonzalez, SP, Red Sox
2022 minors: 4-3, 4.21 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 98 1/3 IP, 54 BB, 121 K
2023 minors: 7-3, 4.44 ERA 1.33 WHIP, 75 IP, 47 BB, 124 K
I've noted that Phillips leads the minor leagues in strikeouts. Tied for second is Gonzalez, a smallish right-hander who has made major inroads of late, striking out 10 over six no-hit innings in his latest start at Double-A. That brings him to 19 in 12 innings since moving up to that level. The overall stat line may not blow you away, but over his past seven starts, he has a 2.61 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 14.9 K/9. His fastball plays up due to his low release point, and at times he's featured five different pitches. It's a fascinating profile, and while it's held back a bit by his shaky control, it's encouraging to see him take to Double-A so quickly.
Drew Thorpe, SP, Yankees
2023 minors: 10-1, 2.08 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 99 1/3 IP, 31 BB, 124 K
What does Thorpe have to do to get his day at Double-A? Tied with Gonzalez for the second-most strikeouts in the minors, his total owes much to his durability. He added another 13 in his latest start, but mostly because he lasted eight innings, a rare feat in A-ball. Rarer still is that it was Thorpe's second eight-inning start, and he's gone seven innings or more in six of his past eight. His numbers during that stretch? A 0.65 ERA, 0.72 WHIP and 11.6 K/9. Sure, it's possible the 22-year-old's changeup is simply too advanced for High-A and will appear more pedestrian once he moves up the ladder, but we'll never know until the Yankees give him that chance.