The San Francisco Giants and Farhan Zaidi finally made their big free agent signing splash on Tuesday, signing former Minnesota Twins shortstop Carlos Correa to a 13-year deal for $350 million. While the details of the deal are yet to be revealed as of writing, it’s fair to assume that Correa will be a big part of the team for a huge part of the future.
In the short term, Correa will be a fun addition to the team. He’s both an excellent hitter and fielder at shortstop. He’ll move longtime Giants shortstop and legend Brandon Crawford to third base, and officially bring an end to the chances of Evan Longoria signing back with the Giants after his option year was declined. He was a big member of the 2017 Houston Astros team that beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, with the help of a sign-stealing cheating scandal. That will definitely rile up the Dodgers and their fans, which is no small bonus. And, unlike Aaron Judge or most of the other top free agent signings, Correa will not cost the Giants a draft pick in free agent compensation.
But…13 years is a long time. So let’s look out a bit further, and look particularly at how this signing will affect the Giants current farm system. And it all centers around the Giants longtime top prospect, the #16 overall prospect in baseball as rated by MLB Pipeline, Marco Luciano.
Will Marco Luciano move to Third Base?
The big question is obviously Luciano’s future.
Luciano is a shortstop. He’s always been a shortstop in his pro career, and has never played a game at any other defensive positions as a pro. The Giants have long been insistent that Luciano is going to be a shortstop…despite many fans and pundits thinking he couldn’t stick there. Well, there is little chance that Luciano could outplay Correa at shortstop, even in 2-3 years. So Luciano’s time has come.
The problem is that the position everyone assumed Luciano would move to, third base, might be occupied.
In 2022, one of the biggest performances in the farm system was third baseman Casey Schmitt. After an injury marred debut season, Schmitt hit .273/.363/.474 in High-A Eugene with 17 home runs, briefly being the Northwest League’s best all-around hitter. He was promoted to Double-A Richmond, and that’s when he really went on a tear, hitting .342/.378/.517 with three home runs in 29 games, and even had a strong showing in a Late September Triple-A cameo, going 5-for-15 (.333) with a double and a home run in four games.
More notably, Casey Schmitt is an elite defensive third baseman. One scout this season said that Schmitt’s defense is reminiscent of Nolan Arenado, who is the only infielder to win the Rawlings Gold Glove award in each of his first ten seasons in the history of the award. While Marco Luciano was out with a back injury for half the 2022 season, Schmitt was used as Eugene’s shortstop, and was very good there, too.
So, let’s be honest: One good offensive season, mostly in Single-A, does not make a sure thing top prospect. There are still plenty of questions about Casey Schmitt, and while the defensive comparison to Arenado is valid, he will not be Arenado offensively.
And that brings us to the big question: Is Luciano’s likely offensive upside going to make it worth moving Schmitt’s defensive upside off of third base?
That is not an easy question to answer. But it may very well lean to…no. Schmitt probably should be the priority at third base.
If that’s the case…then what is there for Luciano?
Can Luciano play Second Base or Outfield?
While many people have picked Luciano moving to third base, there are other options.
Many shortstops play more as general middle infielders as they come up, playing both at shortstop and second base. For Luciano, that has not been the case. He has a good arm, strong enough to handle third, hence the discussion about him going that direction. The bigger question has been more about range. That also hints him moving more to third than second. But second base remains a strong possibility for him.
Probably more likely is a move to left field. Luciano’s speed is average, so he would not have plus range that would be desired in center or right field. Outfield might also be the least work for Luciano to undertake, although he certainly would need to work on getting good jumps and choosing routes.
However, there’s a second reason for a move to left field: health. Luciano struggled with back problems in the 2022 regular season. But more concerning is that his winter league season also ended with a back injury. Playing in the outfield will likely be easier on Luciano’s back than being a middle infielder. That’s no small consideration.
Getting Started On Change
Some might be asking, “Why is this a big deal to figure out now?” Sure, Luciano won’t be in the Majors until 2024 at the absolute earliest, and maybe not until 2025. But the reality is that Luciano is not like other players. Many top prospects have gotten tastes at all sorts of positions. Luciano hasn’t. With him looking at potentially starting 2023 in Double-A, that’s not a lot of time to learn about a new positional home.
And for those who talk about just putting Luciano at third (a popular refrain on Twitter after the Correa signing), the thing is that this is a problem for 2023. Marco Luciano and Casey Schmitt will quite possibly be spending time on the same squad at some point during the season, even if it’s not early in the year. The team should make a decision on who the priority is at third base before the season.
Some of this might action get pushed back, if the team lets Luciano get started slowly on the season by being the designated hitter for a while to rest his back. But the team should know what they’re doing even before that.
Of course, the Giants might just keep Marco Luciano playing shortstop. Maybe he’s held back to repeat some time at High-A, maybe he’s doing it at Double-A. After all, when it comes to prospect evaluation, shortstops are more valuable. And that’s an important thing…if you’re marketing Luciano to other teams.
And yes, that’s the other possibility I won’t leave unsaid: Marco Luciano is far more tradable than he was over the weekend.
No, that does not mean the team is actively trying to trade him. But they are definitely going to listen more to offers, or offer him if the right opportunity comes up.
Other Impacts on the Farm
The Giants don’t have a lot of other top-tier shortstop prospects that will be heavily affected by this. There’s Will Wilson, who has been developed a bit more like a utility player and who was looking more like a second baseman if he has one everyday position. Tyler Fitzgerald’s pop from his bat is interesting, but his offensive upside probably isn’t enough to be an everyday player, so he also looks like a future utility guy, providing pop off the bench.
The more interesting player affected by this at the lower levels is Aeverson Arteaga. The 19-year old turns 20 in March, and had a moderately successful season in his first full pro season. Arteaga, who is a plus defender, could make some Top 10 prospect lists for the Giants after his year, although his offense has a lot of questions after he struck out 155 times in 122 games. By the time Arteaga is likely to be making the big leagues, it will be 2026, 2025 at the earliest. So, there’s time for Arteaga to develop, and to see how things with Correa and Luciano are turning out. But Arteaga is likely a plus defensive shortstop, which could make him a strong backup in the middle infield, or also an interesting trade chip if the Giants pursue it.