Due to popular/one person expressing mild disappointment demand, this series is back. It will bring attention to lesser-known prospects until I decide to stop doing so.
So who is Enderson Franco?
If you blinked on Dec. 12, 2013, you probably missed the Rays adding Franco, a right-handed pitcher, to the organization. Even if you are not into blinking, you could have missed it because you probably have better things to do than listen to the results of the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft.
The major league phase of the Rule 5 draft has a poor ratio of paid attention to actual significance. The minor league phase, however, is perfect. No one pays attention to it, and its significant is likewise minimal.
It is also unlike the major league phase in that a team does not have to keep a player it drafts on the 25-man roster or on any roster. From $4,000 to $12,000, depending on which minor league reserve list a player is on, a new team can just buy a player and welcome him to his new organization.
As far as I can tell, a team can protect 38 players on its Triple-A reserve list and 37 on its Double-A reserve list. The long and the short of it is Houston did not think Franco was one of the best 75 players not eligible for the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft in the organization.
The Rays felt he was, so they sent $12,000 to the Astros to acquire his rights.
Looking at his numbers on the surface with Houston, its decision makes sense. In four seasons across three different rookie leagues, Franco's ERA was above the league average every year, and his strikeout rates were below average, hovering between 12.3% and 17.3%.
On his side, though, were a couple things. He was always below the league-average age and generally threw strikes.
Franco immediately made an impact with his new organization. He did not allow an earned run in his first two starts for Hudson Valley and did not walk a batter until his fifth. He did not walk a second batter until his ninth. In the end, he was one of the better performers in the league, finishing eighth in FIP. In 68 2/3 innings, he struck out 50 and walked just eight.
He was not selected to the New York-Penn League's All-Star Game for some reason, but he did get attention from the prospect watchers, a distinction that is actually important. Baseball America ranked him as the 14th-best prospect in the NYPL ($), two spots behind Casey Gillaspie. BA's Aaron Fitt noted that he's a strike-thrower with an above-average fastball and changeup and potentially average breaking ball.
Fangraphs' Kiley McDaniel's report is not much different. Franco's pitches have roughly the same grades from both sources, and the disagreement lies within his future role. The key for him being a starter and not a reliever is further development of his breaking ball. If it does improve, I would expect to see his strikeout rate rise. If it does not, then a reliever that can fire mid-90s fastballs with an effective changeup still has a big league role.
Through three starts with Bowling Green in 2015, Franco has adjusted to full-season ball well. He owns a 13:1 strikeout:walk ratio in 15 innings and has allowed five runs. His 20.6% strikeout rate would be a career high and the fourth straight year it has improved.
I would not have expected a team to pick up a legitimate prospect in the minor league Rule 5 draft. I was skeptical of the results he was getting last season, but the reports came in this offseason, and the stuff is there to back it up. Franco's good minor league lines since he came to the Rays are not a fluke, and he should be on the radar now.
Because Franco is 22 and throws strikes, I wonder if he could get on a faster track and finish higher than Bowling Green in 2015.