Pittsburgh Pirates infield prospect Tucupita Marcano skipped three minor league levels before making his Major League debut in 2021. What should the team do with him in 2022?
One of the biggest trades the Pittsburgh Pirates have made in the last 6 months was sending second baseman Adam Frazier to the San Diego Padres for a three-player package. The headliner of the deal was considered infielder Tucupita Marcano, who, to the surprise of many, skipped three levels of the minor leagues before making his Major League debut.
Marcano did not play a game at High-A, Double-A, or even Triple-A. The Padres pushed Marcano through the system at a lightning-fast rate, so what should the Pittsburgh Pirates do with him to start 2022?
Marcano did not hit well in his first taste of MLB action. After all, who can blame him? The infielder didn’t play competitively in 2020 and the last time he saw any action was in 2019, his age-19 season, at just Low-A. This would be the equivalent of the Pittsburgh Pirates letting Bubba Chandler be the Opening Day shortstop in 2023. Marcano only stepped to the plate 50 times, posting a 45 wRC+.
After making his MLB debut and struggling Marcano was demoted to Triple-A where he looked pretty solid with the Padre affiliate. He batted .273/.366/.442 with a .351 wOBA, and 103 wRC+. Marcano has always been praised for his ability to avoid strikeouts and draw walks. He was going down on strike three just 12.9% of the time, which was a career-worst, but his 13.4% walk rate fell right in line with what he usually does. Plus he had a .169 isolated slugging percentage.
Post-trade, Marcano continued to strike out rarely (15.7%) while having a healthy 12.4% walk rate. But this also came with a .286 wOBA, and 71 wRC+. He did hit better in the final month of the season, but it wasn’t the hottest start to his Pirate career.
Marcano has always been praised for his hand-eye coordination and ability to put the barrel to the ball. He isn’t very powerful, but he has an elite-60 projected hit tool. His plate coverage and barrel accuracy are given a 70-grade by FanGraphs. Plus, he has consistently drawn walks at a healthy rate throughout his career.
As a defender, he’s considered an average glove at shortstop. But he has experience at second base and started to see playing time in the outfield. He’s more than fast enough to man any middle infield or any outfield position. He’s a 60-grade runner, so he can cover plenty of ground.
Now, granted, Marcano is still fairly young. He just turned 22 in mid-September. But he doesn’t project as much of a power hitter. Both his game power and raw power project as 30-grade tools. But he’s very reminiscent of the player he was traded for, Adam Frazier. A high-contact, low K infield/utility type guy. You could also make the comparison to former two-time All-Star Josh Harrison. Though I think that Marcano will end up drawing walks more frequently than either of them. Plus, he may improve his power to a 40-grade level by the time he’s 24 or so.
If there was a 2020 minor league season, he likely would have spent most of the year at High-A, then Double-A for most of this year. One thing many overlook is that most players didn’t develop as they usually would because of the 2020 minor league season being put on hold. Instead, he was thrust into major league action before he saw playing time at either level. While it’s more common to skip levels and be given shorter looks in the upper minors, you can’t expect every player to pull a Juan Soto, not even play a half season’s worth of games above Rookie-Ball, and immediately start mashing in the big leagues. Guys like him are very much still the exception, not the norm.
Next season Marcano needs to spend a good amount of the campaign at Triple-A. Right now, he has 118 total games and 362 plate appearances above Low-A, none of it coming at High-A or Double-A, and all of it coming at Triple-A and the major leagues. He has the talent to be a consistent .280-.300 hitter with an OBP around .350-.400. With his speed, that kind of ability to get on base is deadly. Any power he adds will be icing on the cake. But he 100% needs more minor league seasoning. He was thrust into big league action because of injuries early in the Padre season. Unless the situation necessitates it, or Marcano starts of 2022 with a nuclear bomb-sized bang, he needs to spend most of the campaign at Triple-A and especially given his age.