Wander Franco is incredible.
The Rays picked him up last July, signing him to a $3.85M deal at just 16 years old.
Franco was ranked as the top prospect of the international class for 2017. A switch-hitting shortstop with a rich history of baseball in his family tree, the Rays looked forward to having him join the fold, and Franco has not disappointed.
After he excelled in extended spring training, the Rays aggressively assigned Franco to the Appalachian League, skipping the Gulf Coast League. That’s a move they have rarely, if ever, done with an international prospect as young as Franco.
At 17 years old, he is playing with college graduates when he would otherwise be starting his senior year in high school... and he’s better than everyone else in the league.
With his first full professional season wrapped up, Franco hit .351/.418/.587 with 11 HR over just 273 plate appearances. Perhaps the most impressive part of his game is his ability to make contact and work his way on base. He ended the regular season with just 19 strikeouts (7.0%) and 27 walks (9.9%).
His strikeout percentage was the 2nd lowest in all of the domestic rookie leagues this Summer. Meanwhile, he sits near the top of the leaderboards is most important offensive categories for the Appalachian League, leading to him being named the Most Valuable Player of the league.
Anyone who has seen the young Franco play this summer, has come away massively impressed with his ability on the diamond and his attitude on and off the field.
Wander Franco's swing on his home run in game 1 last night. pic.twitter.com/PaGjBN455F— keithlaw (@keithlaw) August 23, 2018
Patrón, as he is nicknamed, has soared up prospect rankings and could even crack Baseball America’s top ten prospects in the game by the start of the next season, before he even turns 18 in March.
“He can do everything on a field,” one National League scout said. “There’s a plus bat from both sides and projectable raw power that he’s barely scratching the surface of right now. He can run, he can pick it at shortstop and the arm is strong. He’s real.”
Franco grew up in the same neighborhood as two-time Cleveland Indians All-Star, Jose Ramirez. The MVP candidate raves about Franco’s ability to play the game and claims the Rays budding superstar prospect is better than him.
“I have him over to my house, we practice, we train together, I’m helping him a lot,” Ramirez said. “He’s good. Better than me. He has more strength, more of everything. He really knows how to play.”
The Princeton Rays are currently taking on the Elizabethton Twins for the Appalachian League Championship, with Franco leading his team into the postseason. The Princeton Rays have not won the league championship since 1994.
With how seamlessly Franco has transitioned to professional baseball and how advanced he is for his age, it’s easy to get excited and hope for him to become that next great teenage star for baseball. However, the Tampa Bay Rays will not rush him through the system if it is not warranted, according to Mitch Lukevics, the Rays Director of Minor League operations.
“We are the Tampa Bay Rays. We are who we are,” Lukevics said. “We depend and rely on our scouting and player development system on domestic or international more than any team in baseball and we have less margin of error here. If some teams have errors, they can go buy some players. We don’t have that luxury, so we would want to do what’s right for the player and err on the side of caution.”
Still, Wander Franco is among the most exciting young prospects to watch in the game. Who knows where he’ll start out the 2019 season, but wherever he is, he will certainly draw plenty of attention.