Few 17 year olds were more productive than Astros 3B prospect Waner Luciano in the DSL last year, but what was more interesting than his 123 wRC+ were the bizarre underlying numbers. In his 214 PAs, Luciano slashed .229/.383/.424, with 34 walks and 42 strikeouts (12.1% and 18.2% respectively). Obviously the batting average doesn’t jump off the page there, but the rest of the line does, as he showed an on base acumen and some nice pop (6 HRs), and they come packaged in a player who isn’t confined to the bottom of the defensive spectrum- he has played 3B primarily thus far in his career, but also some right field and has even gotten sparing appearances up the middle.
Luciano also brings some appealing physicality. Currently listed at 6’1”, 170 lbs., he has a very broad frame with plenty of room to fill out, and could get within striking distance of 200 lbs. at maturity, with plus raw power being an eventual possibility. The combination of projection and production convinced the Astros’ brass to push him to the FCL for his stateside debut earlier this year. His stateside debut did not get off to a good start. In fact, it would’ve been difficult to get off on a worse foot- in his first 5 games, Luciano went 0 for 17, though he did walk 4 times and only had 5 Ks, which probably should’ve portended what came next.
The young infielder got off the schneid in the FCL Astros’ June 15 contest, picking up his first two stateside knocks along with a walk and a stolen base. After one more hitless contest the next time out, he then reeled off an impressive 5 game hit streak with 3 multi-hit efforts, going 8 for 19 with a home run over that stretch, striking out just twice. That run pushed his season slash to .227/.340/.318, and he has improved it further to .230/.324/.361 since while picking up his 2nd homer. Since his ohfer skid ended, Luciano is hitting an even .333, and has continued to maintain a healthy walk rate. Most players in the FCL are very young, but at 18 Luciano is still facing mostly older competition, so the early returns have been promising.
There is, however a strange and unfortunate wrinkle in Luciano’s statistical profile thus far. Looking at his batted ball profile, things mostly look how you’d want them to- his FB and LD rates are healthy, and he sends a lot of balls to the pull side without completely neglecting the rest of the field. However, he also hits an absurd amount of infield flies- over 30% of his air contact was classified that way last season, and this year that rate has ballooned to north of 40%. By major league standards, those numbers simply don’t compute- Daulton Varsho currently leads qualified big leaguers at just north of 20%- but it would be inadvisable to look at these numbers through that lens. This kind of rate is far more common at rookie ball levels, and this is intuitive, as 17-19 year olds are still developing physically and lesser strength often equates to less consistent swing mechanics through the contact zone, so mishits are more common. Given how little Luciano puts the ball on the ground though, it could also be swing shape related in his case, so it’s honestly tough to know exactly what to make of him at this point- but it has been fun watching him spit out fascinating numbers as he traverses the lower rungs on the Astros ladder.