The San Diego Padres have an offensive philosophy in the organization: Get on base any way possible.
TinCaps infielder Tucupita Marcano, the Padres' No. 15 prospect according to Fangraphs, exemplifies that attitude. The 19-year-old is getting on base at a .364 clip this season, third on the team. He's walking plenty and he hardly ever swings and misses.
There is one type of play, however, in which Marcano really shows his creativity in finding ways to reach base. It could be known by a variety of names: a Baltimore Chop, a half swing, an aggressive bunt. Regardless of what it's called, Marcano has proven adept this season at using it to steal infield hits.
“That's (Marcano's) thing,” manager Anthony Contreras said of the play. “I've never really seen a player be able to do that as consistently as him. ... His barrel efficiency and his ability to hit to short, hit it to second base, wherever he wants to put it, is pretty incredible.
“However he feels he needs to get on base, if I feel it's the wrong situation (I'll tell him), but more times than not he does it when he needs to do it.”
The only requirement for the play to work is for the second baseman or shortstop to be playing at normal depth. Marcano starts the pitch looking ready to swing away, but when the pitch is on the way he slides his hands slightly up the handle, as if he is going to bunt.
Instead of squaring around all the way, however, he takes a half swing and tries to guide the ball toward second or short. If the swing is executed well, the ball dribbles out of reach of the pitcher, but slows down enough in the grass that the infielder behind him has a long run to get it. Marcano, meanwhile, is already a step or two down the line an instant after contact.
It's a difficult play to pull off, requiring exquisite bat control and plenty of speed. Marcano, who is on the injured list with a sprained thumb, has executed it about a half-dozen times this season.
“I learned it from my father, who did it before me,” Marcano said, through a translator. “My father taught me to do it and I work on it every day trying to make it consistent.”
Marcano's father, Raul Marcano, was nicknamed “Tucupita” after the town in Venezuela where the elder Marcano was a baseball star. He passed the name, and plenty of baseball wisdom, on to his son. Still, perfecting the half swing took plenty of work.
“As soon as I got to Arizona (in 2017, with the Padres' rookie-league team), I started practicing and doing everything with it,” Marcano said.
“Now I have more confidence with it and that's why I keep working on it because I feel comfortable.”
Marcano said that as long as the play helps his team and helps his average along with it, he'll keep doing it. It's difficult for opposing teams to defend because bringing the second baseman or shortstop in opens up even more space than bringing in the third or first baseman to defend a bunt. If they do bring the infielder in, Marcano has already won.
“I believe in my ability,” Marcano said. “It's bad when it doesn't work, but I have to keep doing it because it's one of my best tools.”
Note: The TinCaps lost Friday night against the Lake County Captains, falling 10-2 at Parkview Field in front of an announced crowd of 6,856. Quentin Holmes drove in a career-high five runs for the Captains (35-24) with a home run and a triple.
Justin Lopez drove in a run for the TinCaps (28-30), who start a seven-game road trip today with stops in Dayton, Ohio and Bowling Green, Kentucky before returning to Parkview Field on June 14.