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Rays expected to land top international prospect: Wander Franco

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The nephew of Padres SS Erick Aybar is expected to be a huge target for the Rays when international free-agency opens July 2nd, 2017

Wander Samuel Franco at Showcase
pic.twitter.com/QxqhwrV09X

The last time the Rays were allowed to spend more than $300,000 on any international minor league free agent (2014), they spent $2.95M on Adrian Rondon and more than $5.5M overall that year. Other notables that year were LHP Francisco Sanchez ($675K), CF Jesus Sanchez ($400K), and LHP Resly Linares ($275K).

As Rays fans who monitor the international market closely know, the team is about to exit the restrictions they’ve had on spending for the last two years, and are set to once again make an aggressive bid for the top talent of the international class.

New International Budget Rules

For a very quick “reset” on how the international rules have changed under the new CBA, read this article from Baseball America or this one from Forbes. They’re short and sweet and they set the stage for the team budgets for the 2017 season.

Some of the main things to note are as follows:

  • Hard Cap: Teams can’t go over their bonus pools (the max being the allotted amount plus up to 75% of their original allotted amount if they acquire extra space in a trade)
  • 10K Rule: Anyone signed for less than $10K doesn’t count towards Bonus Pools

The Rays, therefore, have a $5.25M budget, which can then grow by 75% through trades to a maximum of $9.1M.

The other teams that have no current restrictions and the budget to compete with the Rays are: Diamondbacks, Orioles, Rockies and Pirates with $5.75M; and Marlins, Brewers, and Twins with $5.25M.

Impact: Recent and Future Deals, Signings

It’s unclear to us whether any of the recent trades conducted by the Rays (the Mikie Mahtook, Enny Romero, and Eddie Gamboa deals) added international budget space, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see the Rays add room if and when able.

It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Rays are aggressive within the Dominican Republic market. Since they were restricted to $300K per player, the Rays have signed at least 15 players from the country to 6-digit contracts.

If you’re skeptical about the Rays actually being able to sign Franco in July, remember that unlike the MLB draft, the international market sources that Baseball America use to come up with their assessments on which teams are tied to which players have an outstanding track record. Don’t believe me? Just look at this predictions list put out for the 2014 class: International Signing Predictions Top 30 International Prospects.

There are very few misses.

That in itself, and this latest report from Baseball America, should get Rays fans excited about the incoming talent. The Rays now have the opportunity to add a 4th overall pick in this year’s class (early look at who they could add here) and the prospect of adding the best international talent of the entire class.

Rays fans, your front office is working hard to get the mojo going.

I’m currently working an article that notes the continued aggressiveness of the Rays on the international market despite restrictions and how well they compare to their AL East rivals on that front. For too many years, the Rays FO let that market slide, but that’s clearly no longer the case.

Now for what you really want to know—just who is Wander Franco and what does he look like on the field?

SS Wander Samuel Franco | 16 yo - DR

First, the bloodlines within baseball run deep. Both of his older brothers (both also named Wander) are minor leaguers (one with KC, and other with HOU), and his uncle is SS Erick Aybar. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez also notes that his father played professionally. He added this about Franco while writing about the showcase that he took a part of as a 15-year-old:

The switch-hitting shortstop with superb hands, a smooth swing and a long list of professional ballplayers in his family is arguably the top international prospect in the 2017-18 class.

And added this Tweet:

So why so much hype about such a young player with many years ahead of him before he can reach the majors? Sanchez has a great quote from one AL int’l director:

"God reached down and touched those hands," one American League team's international director said. "Guys with hands like that usually end up in the big leagues. If somebody tells you that they signed Vizquel or Ozzie because they thought they were going to hit in the big leagues, well, that's just revisionist history."

If that doesn’t get the blood going, I’m not sure what will.

Closing Thoughts

Sure, there’s still a long way to go before July 2nd and anything can happen before a signing takes place and before Franco ever puts on an MLB jersey. However, it’s a very good sign that the team is still chasing top talent wherever it can find it.

With the success the Rays have experienced on the international market of late (German Marquez, Rondon, and Sanchez being most notable), it’s no surprise that they’re continuing to be aggressive on that front, whether in trade (Carlos Vargas and Lucius Fox) or the July 2nd class.

Between the draft and international free agency, Rays fans have a lot of new talent to look forward to.

Here are two great videos to detail his tools and abilities: